Some cool stuff is going on at Cornerstone in the next month.
In two weeks we’re going to be participating in Disciple Now with First . This has been a great event over the past several years and I’m glad to see that we’re going to continue the tradition. That Sunday Jake Conner, the pastor for the weekend, will be with us in our morning service to wrap things up so you’ll want to be here for that.
The next week, Amanda, Luke and I are going to be out of town at another Disciple Now, so a friend of Tim’s, John Wallingford will be here to share with you. He and a team of people recently returned from Burkina Faso and he’s going to have some really neat things to share that morning.
Between now and Disciple Now, I’ve got two weeks where we’re not in the middle of any particular series, so I find myself gravitating to the text I happen to be reading right now in my journey through scripture this year.
(By the way… how are you doing with that? Have you kept up, or have you missed a few days? I encourage you to be in the Word every day. We’ve got tools that can help you. We can help you come up with a reading plan. Just make yourself read Scripture.)
So I find myself in Exodus reading about the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land and I begin to see a theme in the life of Israel: God hears the cry of the oppressed. Whenever God’s people cry out for salvation from oppression, he hears and he answers.
We’re going to be looking at a couple of different passages in this book, but first I want to set the stage for you a bit. We learn from the book of Genesis how the Hebrews arrived in Egypt. Joseph’s brothers sold him to slave traders who, in turn, sold him to a wealthy Egyptian named Potiphar. From there we learn that eventually Joseph came into the employ of Pharaoh himself, becoming the second most powerful person in Egypt. During a severe famine, Joseph’s brothers came all the way to Egypt to find food. (Because Joseph had acted shrewdly during the times of plenty, Egypt was the only country around that was able to not only feed itself, but sell food to neighboring nations.) Eventually Joseph’s whole family ended up in Egypt and they became the beginning of the Israelite nation.
So Israel’s (Jacob) family is now living in Egypt and they start to grow larger, much, much larger. Fast-forward 400 years and they have become a huge people-group of their own. At the time of the Exodus, Scripture tells us there were 600,000 men, not including women and children. So you can estimate that there were probably at least 2 million Israelites. Now this number becomes problematic to a degree (if you’re prone to historical sickness you can close your ears for a few moments, I’ll let you know when I’m done). For one thing, some historical estimates put the entire population of Egypt at around 2-3 million people. If there were also 2-3 million Israelite slaves, that would put a serious dent in the Egyptian economy. Secondly, assuming the 2 million number, if you lined up 10 abreast and walked in a straight line, that line would be close to 150 miles long. So our band of escaping Israelites would stretch from here to Ft. Worth. Third, if such a group of people were being chased by 600 chariots, they probably wouldn’t be terribly concerned.
So what does this say about the Bible? Am I calling the Bible inaccurate or wrong? Absolutely not! It turns out that the word translated “thousand” can also be translated to read “clan” or “family.” This being the case, it is certainly possible that the translation could read “600 clans” or “600 family groups.” These would each be led by a patriarch or elder man. So when Scripture says 600,000 men, it could read 600 clan-leading men not including their families. When adding up these numbers, you could arrive at a possible population of between 20,000 and 30,000 people, still a significant number, but not as daunting a task to move as 2+ million. In the research I’ve done, the 20,000 figure seems to fall in line with scholars from all walks of life, those of faith as well as those who don’t believe.
What I don’t want to happen is for you to lose all faith in the Bible. That is obviously not why I included this little segment. I even debated as to whether I should talk about this or not. I simply want you to be as informed as you can be. It’s our responsibility to seek to know as much as we can and to understand as much as possible what is actually going on in any given situation. Does it really matter if there were 2 million or 20,000 Israelites? Not really. Why? Because the Bible isn’t a story about people, it’s a story about God. The Bible isn’t a history text. It’s also not a scientific one. The Bible is a relational document about God and how he pursues people. The Bible is a theological text, a text of faith. It’s not the Sunday morning newspaper meant to be read for news. It’s literary, poetic, and relational. Its authors, while inspired, were people, using the gifts, talents, and personality traits that God had given them. The only words they knew were words that existed at the time. The Bible is a trustworthy document. It is filled with stories of God’s redemptive plan for man and his passionate pursuit of his people. It’s a love letter, but it is accurate and trustworthy. (You can come back now if you had stopped listening.)
Getting back to our story now we begin to understand a little better what was going on. The Israelites had been in Egypt for 400+ years and had grown into quite a large population. They had been enslaved and were being oppressed by the new Pharaoh. He became so concerned about the size of their population that he issued a proclamation designed to reduce the Hebrew population. A law was made that required midwives to kill all male children born to the Hebrews.
It was into this environment that a child named Moses was born. His parents hid him as long as they could. Then, to hopefully save his life, his mother put him in a basket in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter found the child and raised him as her own, in Pharaoh’s palace. This was the man God chose to redeem his people.
There’s so much in the life of Moses that we could talk about. There are great lessons for us all throughout his life. What I want to touch on this morning, however, is this: God hears his people when they cry out to him. Remember way back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God had promised them a land of their own. The people knew this. They knew the stories of old. They passed down the traditions of their heritage. They talked about what God had promised to do for them. Yet they were enslaved in Egypt, with hopes for their own nation merely a dream. Verse 23 of this passage says “…their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.” In the midst of their suffering they cried out to the only one in whom they had hope. They cried out for God to save them. They cried out to the one who gave a child to Abraham, who blessed Isaac, who gave Jacob 12 sons, who remained with Joseph through his days to see him become the second most powerful person in Egypt. They cried out for God to save them.
How many times have you come to the end of everything you understand only to be left wanting more? How many times have you prayed for relief from some circumstance only to be left to persevere through it? I sometimes feel sorry for myself. I sometimes find myself wallowing in despair over a particular situation and getting more depressed the more I think about it. That ever happen to you, or am I alone in that one? What if you were an entire people group who had been enslaved in Egypt under a repressive regime for 400+ years? Do you think they cried out in desperation? Absolutely! Scripture doesn’t tell us how long they cried out for deliverance. All we know is they called out in their oppression and they had been there for over 400 years. Verses 24 and 25 offer hope. “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” God heard their groaning. He heard their cries for deliverance. He knew why they called out to him. He remembered his covenant. He had never forgotten it, but the time had come to act upon it.
God hears people in their cries for deliverance. Why does he not always immediately reach down into our lives and fix whatever the problem is? To answer this I look at the birth of Jesus. Why did God not send Jesus right at the beginning? Wouldn’t there have been a greater chance of people hearing the truth and then responding if Jesus had come right after the Fall?
In Galatians 4:4, Paul says “…when the fullness of time had come…” God sent Jesus at exactly the right time in history for his message to be the most effective. God chose to rescue the Israelites from Egypt at the time when it most glorified him. I realize this isn’t the most comforting answer to us and doesn’t really solve our problems, but the truth is that God is in control. He knows the number of our hairs; he knows when a sparrow falls out of the sky. He created the stars and he knows all their names. Perhaps the required perseverance is simply a test of our faithfulness. Perhaps we’re in a difficult situation because we’ve made poor choices in the past. Whatever the reason, God hears our cries for deliverance and he answers them. He will respond.
In any case, God heard the cry of the Israelites. They had been in Egypt for 430 years and they were about to be rescued. We’re not going to go through the 10 plagues today, although that’s a fascinating study. Instead, we’re going to look at a couple of chapters that occur immediately following the Israelite’s escape from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea.
Before we get into that, however, I’d like to make a quick observation about the Israelites. They had prayed for deliverance from Egypt. They’d been there for 430 years and they were finally getting out. You’d think they had learned a bit of patience, right? Not necessarily.
As they got to the Red Sea they looked at the expanse of the waters before them. Then they looked back at the pursuing army of Pharaoh. Then they looked back at the Red Sea, which wasn’t yet getting any drier. They began to grumble. “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” God had just performed the supernatural in order to get them out of Egypt. Now they were complaining that they would rather have remained as slaves than to be slaughtered by Pharaoh’s army or drown in the sea.
We know the story: Moses lifted up the staff of God, the sea parted, and the Israelites crossed on dry ground. When they were all safely across God caused the waters to close back in and the Egyptian army was destroyed.
Now the Israelites are safely away from Egypt. They’ve crossed the Red Sea and there’s no one left to pursue them. All they’ve got to do is continue on to the Promised Land. Easy, right? So they start their long walk through the wilderness. Do you know much about the geography of the region? After you got out of Egypt, there wasn’t much else there. Some rugged desert, a few mountains, perhaps a rock or two. Not much sustenance. You’d think, however, that since the Israelites had just seen God not only supernaturally bring 10 plagues on the Egyptians, but also miraculously split water, they would be pretty cool with him. They’d probably even trust him to miraculously provide some sort of food for them, right? Not so much.
The Israelites began to complain that there was no food. They said “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Isn’t this just like us sometimes? “God, please save us!” God then proceeds to save us from said predicament. “God, why are you saving us like this? It’s not what I thought was going to happen!” We do this all the time. We cry out for deliverance, and then complain because the deliverance doesn’t look like our plan. Perhaps our plan wasn’t the best plan and since God is infinitely more intelligent than we are, we should trust his plan for us.
I’m not sure what the Israelites thought was the best plan, but this obviously wasn’t it. They didn’t want to have to trust every day. That’s what they had to do, though. Every morning a bread-like substance called manna would be found on the ground. Everyone was supposed to gather the amount they required for that day and only enough for that day. If anyone gathered more than he or she could eat in a day, the excess spoiled every night, except on the sixth night. Because the seventh day was a day of rest, no gathering of manna was allowed. Therefore, on the sixth day, everyone was supposed to gather as much manna as he or she needed for two days. Miraculously, it would not spoil overnight. This kind of gives real meaning to “give us this day our daily bread.” That’s exactly what God provided, their daily bread. They had to trust that God really was going to give them exactly what they needed every day; and he did.
Do you ever find yourself in a situation where God has brought you out of a difficult situation differently than you would have done it and has now led you to a place that seems more difficult than what you thought you signed up for? I must admit that I feel this way from time to time. My purpose in this is not to get you to feel sorry for me, but to reveal my humanity to you. I must admit that I’ve found myself recently in this place where I’m like “God this is hard. I knew it was going to be hard, but it’s hard in different ways than I thought it would be. Why?” Why did God require the Israelites to gather manna every day? He could have allowed them to gather a month’s worth at a time. He could have planted a manna tree that constantly produced. He could have given every family a never-empty manna pot that simply replenished itself. Why did he do it this way? Earlier in the chapter (verse 4) God told Moses he wanted to test the Israelites to see if they would walk in his law.
As I read through the Old Testament I get an overwhelming sense of the holiness of God and his desire for a people who would represent him to the world. God’s redemptive plan was already in place. He knew what he was going to do. He wanted a people who would represent his holiness to the other nations. For this reason he wanted his people to follow his laws. The idea was that he knew a better way to live. Very early on he warned the Israelites about living like the other nations. He cautioned them against inter-marrying with neighboring peoples. He gave them the Commandments to follow. All of this was designed to show the rest of the world that there was a different way, a better way, a way which was honoring to the one who had created them.
So now the Israelites are wandering around in the desert eating bread they scraped off of the ground in the morning and quail that landed in their camp during the evenings, but as they wandered further into the wilderness they found less and less water. Want to guess what happened then? “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” I remember taking vacations with my family during summers past. We always had long discussions before we left about the fact that we weren’t going to stop every hour to get something to eat and we always had to go to the restroom before we got back into the car, whether we needed to or not. But inevitably we would get a few miles down the road and either my sister or I would start to grumble. “I’m hungry. I’m thirsty.” Eventually Mom and Dad learned to put a cooler with drinks and snacks in it. But that wasn’t any good, either. “I don’t want to eat that. I’m tired of that. My legs hurt!” This was the Israelites for forty years in the desert.
Imagine you’re Moses leading a group of travelers through the wilderness between Egypt and modern-day Israel. This is likely something you would hear. “Moses, I’m hungry. Why did you bring us out here to starve? Moses, I’m thirsty. I want something to drink. Why are you trying to kill us by not leading us near water? Moses, I’m tired of walking. When are we going to get there? I think my legs are going to fall off!” Every time Moses heard grumbling he’d go back to God. “The people are hungry. I’m a little concerned. I’m pretty sure they’re about to eat me. Some of them have crazy eyes.” God always provided. God met every need they had. Why? Why not just let the miserable little complainers die in the desert? God is faithful, even when we’re not. God heard the cry of the oppressed in Egypt and he provided a way out. He was doing what he said he was going to do. God always hears the cry of the oppressed.
Eventually wandering through the wilderness it’s possible that you’ll meet a tribe of people that isn’t so pleasant. This happened for the Israelites. They came upon a group of people known as the Amalekites. Moses commanded Joshua to take a group of men and defend the Israelites from the Amalekites.
Moses said he would stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hands. Whenever Moses held the staff of God up, Israel prevailed. When his arms got tired and he lowered them, Amalek began to triumph. Aaron and a man named Hur noticed this. They found a large rock for Moses to sit on, and then each of them held up one of Moses’ arms, so the staff of God never dropped. Israel was able to overcome the attack from the Amalekites.
This is a beautiful picture of how we can support one another. God always hears the cry of the oppressed. He always answers. Sometimes, that answer comes in the form of another person or group of people. Moses was physically unable to keep his arms held up with the staff of God, so Aaron and Hur helped him. Sometimes a brother or sister needs your wisdom and advice. Sometimes they need someone to talk to. It’s true that sometimes they might need your admonishment. But sometimes a brother or sister simply needs you to lift his or her arms up so they can make it through the trial. Maybe you’re the answer to someone’s prayer. Be mindful of situations around you. How can you make them better? How can you help meet a need? This is what we’ve been talking about for six weeks now. Make your life count. God hears the cry of the oppressed. Maybe you’re part of the answer.
One final passage I want us to look at:
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
This sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God has been looking and continues to look for a people who will proclaim his greatness and mercy. God hears the cry of the oppressed. He heard the cry of the Israelites. He rescued them from persecution in Egypt. He brought them through the wilderness. He fed them with manna and quail. He brought them water from a rock. Then he brought them to Sinai. “…if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples…” If you keep my covenant, I will make you my chosen people. God is looking for a people who will show the world what he is like. That’s why he tells us how we’re supposed to live. That’s why we have a standard to uphold. We’re supposed to show people what God is like. God hears the cry of the oppressed. He rescues the oppressed and brings salvation.
But the salvation is just the beginning. The redemption is just the start of things to come. There is always more.
I remember being in a situation a few years ago that Amanda and I prayed for redemption from. We saw a need and felt like God was pushing us toward a resolution, toward a new journey. So we prayed, and prayed, and prayed for God to open the doors to the pathway. He didn’t do it right away, but he did it. That was just the beginning. That’s the trouble with salvation and redemption. There’s always a purpose behind it.
God redeemed the Israelites from Egypt so he could create a nation of priests who would reveal to the nations who he was.
God redeems people today so he can build his church, which is designed to show the world who he is.
God redeems us from various situations so we can continue to glorify him and explain to the world what he is doing. Salvation comes with a purpose. God always hears the cry of the oppressed. He always acts. But the redemption may come slower than we planned, differently than we planned, and always comes with a purpose.
God’s purpose for us is to represent him to the nations, to show the world what he is like, to take his message of grace to everyone, so that the whole world might hear and believe.
God’s salvation is free, given by grace, but it comes with responsibilities.
Are you oppressed? Cry out to the Father. He is in the business of redemption.
Are you redeemed? Show the world the incredible God who redeems!