Sunday, June 11, 2006

Exodus 5:22 – 7:7

Moses has come in for some flak from the elders of the Hebrews (vv.20,21). They want the Lord to judge him for bringing them into such a difficult situation. It seems that they were expecting a quick and complicit response from Pharaoh, some thing that we saw Moses and Aaron also seemed to have been expecting.

What is Moses to do? In v.22 we’re told that he “returned to the LORD”. Quite what that means is not clear – did he go back out to the desert? Did he have a special place of prayer in Egypt? Perhaps more than anything what we’re seeing here is a perceived distance between Moses and the Lord (perceived by Moses). Isn’t it true that when things don’t go as we hoped they might that we perceive there to be some distance between the Lord and us?

Whether that phrase is meant to imply that kind of perception, it is certainly present in Moses’ words: he asks if this is what the Lord has intended, to bring trouble on his people. The way the Lord deals with Moses’ objections has much to teach us.

1. The LORD will act
The LORD neither chastises Moses nor defends himself; he simply affirms once more who he is and what he will do. He is Yahweh, the God who makes and keeps covenant, the God who will ever be true to his own character – the God who will be what he will be.

He tells Moses that, although he appeared to Abraham and others as El Shaddai (God Almighty) he wasn’t known to them as Yahweh. Reading Genesis seems to conflict with that, since Abraham and others used that name for him. Yet what is being said here is not about the absolute use of the name but the experience of what that name means. The patriarchs knew his name and something of his character but it will fall to this generation to experience him as the God who saves his people.

And so, both in 6:2-8 and 7:1-7, he stresses his own sovereignty and undertakes to deal with Pharaoh and redeem his people. Moses has perhaps underestimated the reality of the battle they will face but no matter: the Lord is going to act.

His words to Moses here are very much in line with what Joshua is told when he meets the commander of the Lord’s army – he has come to do battle on behalf of his people.

In all our struggles, in all the reality of the spiritual battle that we’re engaged in, we must hold onto this point. The battle is deeper than we have ever imagined; on our own, we could not stand; we would be overthrown in a moment. But the Lord has come, in person, in his Son, to defeat all the powers of darkness.

And, so, Moses is sent back out with a message of strength for the people and a message of doom for Pharaoh. It is with the essence of such words that we also go out into the world of our day – knowing that all power and authority has been given to Jesus and that he is with us always, even to the end of the age.

2. Names & Names
But if the point the LORD is making there is crystal clear, the point of the next section is not. Why all these names? Why here? Why now?

I guess it’s easy to be impatient with scripture at this point – and with preachers who insists on reading passages like this! We live in an age of readily-accessible information that we demand is presented clearly and succinctly. How do you get this sort of stuff into a power point and hold people’s attention? Make it an appendix to the main stuff, yes, but don’t make it part of the main stuff.

Maybe part of the lesson of such passages is a greater attentiveness to scripture and greater patience with it. If a passage doesn’t ‘speak to’ your heart straight away, don’t just rush on but accept that the Lord is still speaking through it and is calling you to humbly sit before the text and quietly seek his help to grasp what is being said.

So how do we do that here? In the first place, notice the way this is structured: vv.10-12 are almost identical to vv.28-30. And in terms of the genealogy itself, the focus is put on the line of Levi and on Aaron in particular, missing out some generations in order to have him at the centre-point with Phinehas at the end. So why this order and why this care to present the details in that fashion?

By taking us back to the sons of Jacob (Israel), this list impresses on us again that what is taking place here is in direct fulfilment of the promises the Lord made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The people of Israel have a heritage of grace and have been called to serve the purposes of God for his world.

The focus on the line of Levi, and particularly on Aaron, underscores the legitimate priesthood of both Aaron and Moses. This focus on Aaron – not just in the list but in the way the list is framed by Moses’ questions about his speaking to Moses, a job which Aaron will help him with – shows that his role was not one he took for himself but one to which the Lord called him.

Why might that need to be underscored? One of the things we need to remember is that Exodus was first read not by the generation being described in these chapters but those who grew up in the wilderness. And those who grew up in the wilderness would have been familiar with the occasion that Aaron opposed Moses and his willingness later in Exodus to cast an idol for the people.

By laying such stress now on Aaron’s credentials as a priest and the Lord’s choice of him, any undermining of his reputation later on is circumvented. God’s servants are not perfect but that does not stop them from being legitimate servants. It also serves to draw our attention to the one truly righteous servant of God, Jesus.

3. As God to Pharaoh (7:1-7)
When God calls Moses to go back to Pharaoh, he says something very potent to him: “I have made you like God to Pharaoh”; in fact, it’s even more powerful than that – it simple reads “I have made you God to Pharaoh”.

We’ve met this kind of talk before – this is how the Lord described the relationship of Moses to Aaron; Moses would tell him what to speak and Aaron would say it. But although the language is similar, the idea is being taken further. Pharaoh is not a willing participant in the great drama unfolding. Yet Moses will be God to him.

This tells us something vital, not simply about Moses but the nature of all truly Christian living in this world.

As we come to Jesus and are indwelt by his Spirit, something wonderful occurs – we begin to be remade in the image of our gracious Saviour: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

And in that state of being new and being made new, we are ‘God’ to the world – a letter to be read by all people that communicates the reality of his saving and judging love – the aroma of life to some and of death to others. The Lord makes his appeal through us, calling people to be reconciled to him (2 Cor 5:20). As his people, we are (in Christ) the light of the world (Mt. 5:14), holding out the word of life to all people (Phil. 2:16).

Your life is not trivial; your witness is not to be measured simply in terms of the words you speak that tell of Jesus. Rather, the potency of our witness is drawn from the fact that we are being changed into his likeness – often, perhaps, in ways that are not visible to us and yet which others see and feel the impact of.

But such transformation only occurs where we behold the Lord’s glory. And that glory is seen, as Paul so clearly reminds those to whom he is writing, in the crucified Messiah. The Corinthians were being taken in by the health & wealth crowd of their day; they saw suffering as a denial of the reality of God. And so Paul had to put them right on that: the glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ – a face that was marred beyond human recognition.

We don’t need to pretend before the world that all is right with us, that becoming a Christian means no more problems and no more suffering. That is simply not true. And the reason we don’t need to pretend that is because God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, that he is glorified through our weaknesses as his Spirit of grace and glory rests upon us.

We have an amazing calling; we have an awesome God. Let’s seek to serve him well, in the power of his Spirit, for the glory of Jesus.

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