What did Moses use to part the red sea?
A sea saw.
We’re made for ____ (community) but, by nature, we’re community _____ (crashers). But that’s okay because God had a plan. He called Abraham and made a (it’s another C) _____ (covenant). And that covenant is to bless the entire world through him and his descendants.
Good – today we’re going to do something a little different. Less teaching, more story. But as you listen to this story, I want you to ask yourself a few questions. First, is any situation too hopeless for God? And two, does God only use great people to accomplish great things?
And so here we go – fast forward about five hundred years. Abraham’s descendants – the Hebrews or the Israelites – have been slaves in Egypt for more than four hundred years. And maybe a few of these slaves have heard about God’s promise to Abraham. But I doubt they believe it. After all, God had promised Abraham that He’d bless his descendants and give them a wonderful land of their own – and yet all they’ve known their entire life is slavery. Imagine being born in a prison cell and being told a story that your great, great, great, great, great grandfather was made a promise in 1509 by God that one day you’d live in a palace. Would you believe it? Would that story make you a hopeful person? I seriously doubt it. And so as the book of Exodus opens, the situation looks pretty hopeless. And at least from the Hebrew perspective, all hope was lost.
Now, I know that sounds bad – but things get even worst. A new pharaoh comes into power and he fears the Israelites because when God commanded them to be “fruitful and multiply,” they listened – these people have a lot of babies. And pharaoh doesn’t want to be outnumbered – after all, that could be bad for national security – and so he makes an imperial decree – all Hebrew male infants will be killed and thrown into the Nile River. In other words, all baby boys must be killed.
Now, I want you to pause and think what a precious gift a new baby is to a father and a mother. And now imagine some Egyptian police officer – storming into house after house – rounding up baby boy after baby boy – and throwing them into the Nile River – all because Pharaoh was paranoid. Every day you look at the Nile and see dead babies floating away. We’re talking about mass genocide. The situation seems hopeless. Fortunately, our God thrives in hopeless situations.
Because one day a Hebrew boy is born by the name of Moses and his mother can’t bear to lose him. And so she hides him for three months, and when she can’t hide him anymore, she makes a little waterproof basket and sets Moses down to float along the Nile hoping that someone will rescue him. Well, in an ironic twist, Pharaoh’s own daughter finds Moses and decides to keep him, which means, that Moses – the Hebrew – is now the adopted grandson of Pharaoh himself.
Well, as Moses grows up, he finds himself living in two different worlds. You see, on the one hand, he’s concerned for his own people – after all, he’s a Hebrew. But on the other hand, Moses is educated, trained, and raised – not only as an Egyptian – but as Egyptian royalty. Remember, he’s the adopted grandson of Pharaoh. We can assume he lives in a palace. He has nice food, nice clothes – I’m sure he has a few slaves of his own. But, he’s not an Egyptian. He’s a Hebrew – an Israelite. Talk about a hopeless situation – Moses’ own biological family members are all slaves in his own Kingdom.
When Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his people, the Israelites, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrew slaves. 12 After looking around to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. – Exodus 2:11-12
Now, some preachers will often give Moses’ act a positive spin, but this Bible passage just doesn’t support such a position – Moses murdered this guy in cold blood. He looks around to make sure no one is watching, but as we all know, he still gets caught. The murder makes the front page of the Egyptian Post the following morning, and to make matters worse, Pharaoh – his own grandfather – puts a price on his head. And so Moses – the convicted murderer – runs for his life and flees to the land of the Midianites, where he begins a brand new life.
And so to use a modern analogy, Moses is in the witness protection program. He’s got a new wife – a cute little thing by the name of Zipporah. He’s got a new career – deciding to enter the Midian shepherd training program. And finally, he has a son. Is there a hole in his heart? Yea, but at same time, Moses knows that in time he’ll learn to love his new life in Midian. And so Moses gets what some would call a “second chance at life.”
Now, back in Egypt, Pharaoh – Moses’ grandfather – dies and the replacement pharaoh is even worse. And as for the Israelites – they’re still hopeless and miserable slaves. And according to Exodus 2:24, “God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham.” Now, as a quick side note – this is an important Bible verse because it tells us a lot about the awesome character of God. In essence, what God is saying is this – “I love my people. I long for their good. I want to deliver them. I’ve seen, I’ve noticed, I care, I’m coming, I want to bring my salvation.”
And so what does God do? Well, let’s go back to Moses who’s living an ordinary and uneventful life – some might even say a boring life – in the witness protection program. And he’s been in Midian for about forty years tending his sheep until one day everything changes.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." – Exodus 3:1-3
To quote Moses, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight.” In reading Exodus, we get the sense that everything hinges on Moses’ willingness to “turn aside.” Because he doesn’t have to – after all, the bush is a little out of his way. Moses could have said, “I’m a busy man, I’ve got things to do, I don’t have time to turn aside.” He could have kept on walking. And he would have missed his calling. Moses would have missed the Exodus. He would have missed the entire reason for which he was born. And so a quick question: how are you doing at turning aside these days – at paying attention for burning bushes that may just be lurking around the corner. The only reason I ask is because God seeks to meet each and every one of us. After all, that is God’s desire. And yet we can go an entire lifetime and never meet God. Isn’t that amazing? Some people live an entire life and never turn aside.
Well, thankfully Moses does turn aside and listen to what God says.
Then the LORD told him, "You can be sure I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries for deliverance from their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8 So I have come to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own good and spacious land. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."
“Go – I am sending you to pharaoh.” What do you think Moses said – what would you say? For example, let’s say you’re a Jewish refugee living in Manhattan and the year is 1944. And God comes to you and says “Go – I’m sending you to Hitler. Your ship leaves tomorrow.” What would you say?
Well, Moses launches into a series of five objections. You see, he’s a lot like us. Moses believes in God’s power, he’s just not so sure about himself. In other words, he doesn’t feel worthy of the calling. He wrongly assumes that you have to be great to be great. And so let’s look at Moses’ five objections.
Moses’ first question is, “Who am I?” In other words, I’m just an inadequate shepherd, not to mention a murderer. Who am I? I’m not great. And God’s answer is simple: “I will be with you.” In other words, God says – you’re no one. But I AM. And I plan on working through you.
Well, then Moses says, that’s great and all, but – “who are you?” Remember, it’s been like 500 years since God had that first DTR with Abraham. God isn’t well known or worshipped by Moses. And as for Moses, he grew up in Egypt and was raised to worship one God – and now he lives in Midian, and his people probably worship a different God. And so Moses has to know – what God are you? And God’s answer is brilliant. I AM WHO I AM. And so Moses is sent back to His own people with this message: “hey guys, it’s me Moses. I’m actually one of you, but I’ve actually never been a slave, per se. Funny thing, I grew up in Egypt and now I live in Midian. Anyway, God just appeared to me and says it’s time for you guys to pack up and leave Egypt.” Moses knows this is a little far-fetched and so he moves to …
What if they don’t believe me? It’s a fair question. And so God tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground and it turns into a snake. Personally, this would have been a deal-breaker for me. But then God tells Moses to pick the snake up by the tail – which is the most dangerous part FYI – and when he does, the snake turns back into a staff. And so God gives Moses a magic trick to prove to his people that God really sent him. But is that enough for Moses? No.
I think the fourth objection is by far my favorite – Moses says he’s a bad public speaker. He’s not very eloquent. “Don’t be ridiculous Moses,” God says, “I’ll give you the right words when you need them.” And then finally, …
(which isn’t really an objection at all) Moses is out of formal excuses and so he clears his throat and says his first recorded prayer in scripture: “God, just get someone else. Anyone but me.” And God essentially says “sorry. You’re my man. I’ll send Aaron with you. But you’re my guy.” And to paraphrase Moses’ response – “whatever, fine, I’ll go.” And Moses does – he goes to the most powerful man in the world with nothing but a staff and says “let _____” (my people go – famous phrase). And Pharaoh says? NO!!!
Not only does Pharaoh not believe Moses’ story, but as he states quite clearly, he doesn’t believe in Moses’ God. And plus, he’s not just going to get rid of his slaves – it’s his entire work force and would mean the collapse of the Egyptian economy. Let my people go? Not gonna happen Moses.
And so what God does is initiate a series of plagues. The first is to turn the Nile River into blood, which would have been very significant for the Israelites. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that the Nile had been filled with the blood of their infants and so this would have been meaningful for the Israelites – like God was bringing justice to the Egyptians. But Pharaoh isn’t impressed. And so God sends about a million frogs to torture the Egyptians. Why God makes the second plague the most severe I’ll never know. But, Pharaoh’s heart is still hardened. And so the plagues continue – gnats, flies, dying livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and even 24/7 darkness – and Pharaoh still refuses to let the Israelites go.
And so God responds with the tenth and final plague, which is the most devastating of all. The people who committed genocide against the Israelites will now lose their first born.
So Moses announced to Pharaoh, "This is what the LORD says: About midnight I will pass through Egypt. 5 All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest slave. Even the firstborn of the animals will die.
Imagine being in the home of one of the Israelites that night. God has told you that in the morning, you’re leaving Egypt. Remember DTR #1 – the call to leave what’s familiar and to go to a new place that I myself will show you? Well, this is DTR #1 for Abraham’s descents. They are to leave Egypt the following morning, this is their final night in the only land they’ve ever known, and not only that but they’ve been given instructions – “Sacrifice a lamb,” God says, “and put the blood of the lamb on the doors of your home, and I will pass-over your home. Death and judgment will pass over you and your family because you’re covered by the blood of the lamb.” So in obedience, you slaughter a lamb and have one final meal at home – and you put its blood on your doors. And then, you wait. It must have been one of the scariest nights in the history of the world. You wonder if it’s real – will your children really be spared? Is the blood of the lamb really enough to save you?
And of course the answer is yes – the following morning you leave Egypt for the first time in your entire life, which means that you experience freedom for the first time in your entire life, which also means that in the coming years you will have to learn how not to be a slave. You might not like slavery – but remember – it’s all you know.
And so you’ve responded to DTR #1 – the call to leave – which leaves us with a question. How well will you handle your freedom? That’s what we’ll be looking at next week.
NOTE ON SOURCES
This OMEGA series “OT Greatest Hits” is inspired by a 32-week Christian Education program put out by Willow Creek called the “Old Testament Challenge.” Some Omega talks will rely on this resource more heavily than others. Some will not even be based on it at all. However, if you have specific questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on the OT Challenge, see http://www.willowcreek.com/resources/courses/otc/.