Day 70: “Walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.”

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Before you read: “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land.  God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”  So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” Exodus 13:17-18

Read Exodus 14:5-25

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

He does it again.

Like so many times before in the Story, God lets things get to their absolute worst before He steps in.  How quickly triumph seems to turn to defeat!  Huddled by the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army bearing down on them, the Israelites feel tricked, trapped and terrified.

I love how the pillar of cloud moves to the back of the Israelites and settles “between the two groups”, like an enormous bodyguard.  Then it turns to fire to give light and warmth through the night.

God, the bodyguard.

God, the nanny.

But what I love best are verses 15-16.  “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? (What else should he do?) Tell the people to get moving! (Um, God? We’re trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea – where can we go?) Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. (say what??!) Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.”

Oh.

God says, Do I have to spell it out for you Moses? and Moses says, Yes.

It just hadn’t occurred to him to raise his staff and separate the water so the Israelites could “walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground”.

It wouldn’t occur to me, either.

“Then Moses raised his hand over the sea and the Lord opened up a path through the water…”

It’s easy, Moses.  Just do miracles.

Or better yet, let God do them.

Then, in a final, fabulous gesture, at the perfect moment – the Israelites are safe across and the Egyptians are coming up behind – God brings the water crashing down.

“The Egyptians tried to escape, but the Lord swept them into the sea.” (14:29 NLT)

“That is how the Lord rescued Israel from the hand of the Egyptians that day…When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before Him.”  (14:31 NLT)

And that, I think, was the whole idea.

They had thought there were two options, both bad: be killed by the Egyptians, or be killed by the water.

But God made a third option – an impossible, crazy option: walk through the water.

He writes the Story.

He can do that.

Day 69: This is a day to remember forever

 

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Read Exodus 13:1-16

The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”
Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites—the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to observe this ceremony in this month: For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.
11 “After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

 “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.”

Sacrifice them. That’s what it means.

But He doesn’t want human sacrifice. Only kill the animals, He says, buy the sons back.

Why though? Why does He want all the firstborns?

Or maybe He doesn’t.

He doesn’t want them – they’re already His.

That’s the point.

Consecrating the firstborn males is a way of continuously saying thank you. Thank you for sparing ours, for sparing us. Thank you that from us, you’ll accept animals instead of … well, us.

God wants the Israelites to remember this night.

He wants them to remember how it felt to stand there listening to the screams and knowing the angel of death was passing over their homes only because of some smeared blood on their doors.

I’d think it would be impossible to forget, but God seems to disagree. He rearranges their entire calendar so that this day – this cold morning in the desert – is the first one of a new year (12:2). From now on, all their days will count from this one, and their years will rotate around this event.

Today is day one and God wants them to re-enact this fateful night at the start of each new year. What a powerful way to remember, especially for the children. And it’s the children He has in mind because, as usual, He’s doing something that will reach far beyond this one generation.

So it’s imperative that His people remember: dedicate every firstborn male, celebrate the ‘Passover’ festival, and count their days from today.

It all begins to come together.

Long ago, God promised Abraham his descendants would grow into a nation and the nation would be slaves for four hundred years, then set free (Gen 15:12-16). More recently, God told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.”

It’s all part of the plan.

God wants this ‘created’ nation, His people, to be uniquely defined by this one event, like a tattoo clearly visible on each one – a ‘sign on your hand, and a reminder on your forehead’. 

They are a rescued people: slaves set free.

And you know what that means?

It means they have a rescuing God.

A hero.

Day 68: The Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt

 

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Read Exodus 12:21-42

21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.
29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.
40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.

Father killed Mookie.

We knew he would. Four days ago we chose him, and Father assigned me to feed and care for him. He told me not to name him because he was the sacrifice lamb, but I named him Mookie.

Father was right.

Standing by the table now I must eat the lamb and it chokes me. I don’t want to eat Mookie. His blood is on our door.

It’s all very strange.

We never eat standing up, and Mother and Father are so solemn. Little Kohath stands on a stool because he’s too short to see the table from the floor. He thinks we’re playing a game and his laughter sounds wrong in this quiet night.

Somewhere, someone screams.

The scream turns into a high, keening wail of grief and then others join in. More screams. More wails. They fill the darkness and press against our house, crashing over our table. We hold hands.

Even Kohath is silent now.

A frantic knock at our door. Our Egyptian master stands there, grief on his face and something else, terror. He’s afraid of us.

“Go.”

It’s all he says.

Like they knew this was coming, Father and Mother hurriedly gather our few things. Mother scoops up the bread dough – we haven’t put the yeast in yet – and out we go, under the doorpost that has Mookie’s blood, into the dark, screaming night.

The Egyptians are pouring out of their homes, watching us walk by.

“Will they hurt us?” Kohath whispers. He’s thinking about the wounds on Father’s back. Mother shushes him, then she does the most amazing thing. She walks right up to our master’s wife and asks for her earrings and – will the wonders never end? – the woman gives them!

As we walk, we’re joined by other Israelites: family and friends. Soon we’re an enormous crowd, just walking out of Egypt. People are saying all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians have died, and I think of the sadness in Mother’s eyes since they killed my baby brother a month ago.

“Where are we going?” Kohath asks as we leave the city behind us and walk into the desert. It is still very cold but getting lighter.

“We’re going Home, son.”

Is that Father’s voice? It sounds different, fierce somehow, and larger. It sounds – joyful.

Day 67: “All the firstborn sons will die.”

 

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Before you read: The locusts were the eighth plague, the ninth was a darkness that wiped out the sun for three whole days. Starting at the fourth plague, God spared the Israelites and hit only the Egyptians.

Read Exodus 11:1-10

 Now the Lord had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” (The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

Disclaimer: This is all made up. I’ve done no serious research about ancient Egypt and what slaves’ lives were like and whether or not Pharaoh had a ‘fanner’.

You are one of Pharaoh’s slaves. His fanner, you patiently sway the fronds the way you know he likes, creating the perfect breeze to keep him cool. Silently, you have stood by his throne for years, watching him in all his glory and power – you have worshiped him as a god and as a man, delighting in his judgments and wisdom.

Lately, though, not so much.

You notice the shadow cast by the pillar in the brightly lit courtyard and are deeply grateful for the sun. Just yesterday, and for the past three days, the room had been lit by flickering candles and torches. It was unnerving.

Your itching and pain have finally gone away, and you can do your job again, but any little prickle on you skin is a vivid reminder of your days of intense discomfort.

Now, here come Moses and Aaron again. It’s hard to keep your arms moving steady, no change in the tempo of the breeze Pharaoh feels. You want to drop the frond and fall at Moses’ feet, but it would be your last act. You dare not look at him, because you must keep your eyes on Pharaoh, but you strain to hear what they’re saying.

How much has changed! When Moses and Aaron first came to Pharaoh, you barely paid attention. Dusty Hebrews, chattering about some god, they had the audacity to tell Pharaoh to let all the Israelites go, to set them free!

You would’ve laughed outright if allowed.

But then the disasters started: the blood, frogs, gnats, flies, hail, locusts, and the endless night.

The words of Moses come to life.

More and more, Pharaoh looks like a sulky, angry, child.

Like a fool.

Wait, what’s Moses saying now?

“All the firstborn sons will die.”

Now your hand does tremble. You can’t help it as you think about your chubby, innocent little boy who plays at home while you stand here in the palace.

You wonder what it takes to become an Israelite…

Day 66: “Don’t you realize that Egypt lies in ruins?”

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Before you read: Since the Nile was turned to blood, Egypt has suffered supernatural swarms of frogs, gnats, and flies; the livestock has been killed by disease, and all the people tormented by painful boils. Finally, a massive hailstorm “struck down everything in the open field – people, animals and plants alike. Even the trees were destroyed.” (9:25)

Each plague was predicted by Moses and linked directly to Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites go. Now, Moses says, locusts will come and finish off whatever is left if Pharaoh won’t relent.

Read Exodus 10:7-20

Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”

Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he said. “But tell me who will be going.”

Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.”

10 Pharaoh said, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. 11 No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.

12 And the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.”

13 So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; 14 they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. 15 They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.

16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”

18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

“Pharaoh’s officials now came and appealed to him.”

They’ve been paying attention.

As disaster after disaster has washed over their country, they’ve begun to hear the footsteps of the God Moses keeps talking about.

Doesn’t surprise us at all.

To us, it’s obvious that Moses speaks for God and God does what He says. For us, it’s difficult to understand how Pharaoh can possibly miss this.

But we stand outside of Pharaoh’s story. On the inside, where Pharaoh is, things are not as clear. They never are. Pharaoh doesn’t want to see God. If he sees God, then he’ll have to admit that he’s not writing his own story.

And God helps him in this self-deception by ‘hardening’ his heart.

Wow.

What’s that about? Why would God do that? Sure, He’s using all this to show His strength and power, but what about poor Pharaoh?

Maybe he could’ve had a chance if God had left his heart alone.

Maybe.

Or maybe not.

We don’t know.

In this Story-About-Everything this is the only time God ‘hardens’ someone’s heart. The whole rest of the Story is about how He draws people to Himself. This is a piece that doesn’t fit.

When I’m doing a puzzle and come to a piece that doesn’t fit – doesn’t seem to make sense in light of the rest of the picture – I put it aside. Always by the time the puzzle is nearly done, the piece makes sense and I know where it goes.

Usually by then I’m seeing it differently.

At any rate, Pharaoh is the only one still holding out against the inexorable desire of God to bring his people to freedom.

Moses keeps ‘stretching out’ his hand and God keeps doing the things.

And everybody knows it but Pharaoh.

He clings to his version of the story, refusing to accept a different perspective.

Refusing to admit – even to himself – that he might be seeing things wrong.

All the pieces that don’t fit might show him God, if he’d let them.

It often goes that way.

Day 65: “Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes down to the river”

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Before you read: Moses and Aaron did go back to Pharaoh. God turned Aaron’s staff into a snake, but Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same thing – though Aaron’s snake swallowed theirs up. Still, Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go.

Read Exodus 7:14-24

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. 16 Then say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. 17 This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’”

19 The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.”

20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. 21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.

22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said. 23 Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the river.

Da-dum! Da-dum! Can you hear?

It’s the heavy footstep of God coming up beside Moses and flexing His muscle as He prepares to take on Egypt.

He starts with the river because the Egyptians worship it. Technically, they worship the river god, Hapi. By corrupting the water of the river, God is challenging their god. He wins.

The Nile River stretches wide and embraces all Egypt, flooding it year after year and leaving rich river silt to grow abundant crops. It’s also the main highway, crowded with riverboats carrying people and cargo. All the buildings, farms, and cities of Egypt crowd close to the river because it is their source of life. (I know my picture is all wrong – couldn’t find a free one that worked). 

And every morning Pharaoh goes out to bathe in it and pay tribute to its god.

How annoying to find Moses and Aaron there! Must they ruin even this pleasant ritual?

Pharaoh doesn’t know he’s a character in the Story God is writing. Pharaoh thinks he’s the author of his own story and the story of all Egypt, including the Israelites. It’s a terrible misunderstanding.

God wants the Israelites out of Egypt, so He sends Moses and Aaron back to Pharaoh a third time. All Pharaoh sees are two Hebrew men, not powerful at all. He doesn’t see God and doesn’t believe such a being even exists.

So God needs to get his attention.

Da-dum! Turning the river to blood is only the first of what will be ten plagues of destruction God will use to hammer Pharaoh and break the power of Egypt.

Moses doesn’t know this, at least not specifically. He’s probably amazed and relieved that the river turned to blood. Finally, God is doing something. Now, the Israelites will listen to him.

But God had already done something.

He had spoken.

He had given His word that He would free the Israelites and bring them to their own land. With God, to speak is to do, but all the characters in the Story have yet to learn it: Pharaoh, Moses, the Israelites – me and you.

Day 64: “I am the Lord”

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Read Exodus 6:2-12

God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.

10 Then the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.”

12 But Moses said to the Lord, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”

“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him…”

I wouldn’t either.

It would hurt too much.

When the only sure things in life are pain, brutality, and heartbreak, you need all your defenses. Hope is just too costly and promises of relief and escape only make the awfulness worse. Best not to think at all: don’t hope, don’t dream, just endure.

There is no emotional room to process the disappointment over God’s betrayal.

Moses must have felt the same way because God’s words to him are all reassurance: “You can be sure that I have heard … I am well aware of my covenant … I will free … rescue … redeem … bring you into the land.” (NLT)

Almost as though God is defending Himself.

He gets it, you know.

He understands that when it looks bad to us then, to us, it is bad, even if He knows He’s going to fix it soon. When life is hard, God doesn’t get mad at us because we find it hard.

Moses is finding it very hard right now, so God meets with him and reassures him. He’s not angry that He needs to do this. Patiently, so patiently, He repeats all the things He’s already said.

You see, He’d promised – right at the start – to be with Moses.

This is how He does it, by reminding him of His plan and letting him see His heart: I hear their groans, too.

God still plans to save the Israelites. But there’s something He wants to do first and that is strengthen Moses’ faith. He wants Moses to know Him better. I told you my name, Moses, and I’m going to show you my power, but will you trust me first? Will you trust me now, even though it looks as though I’ve let you down?

It’s the same question He asked Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. He’s looking for an obedience that comes from faith and if faith means believing against evidence, then it cannot grow where there is evidence of God’s presence and activity.

All the evidence needs to be against God.

It needs to feel hopeless.

Because faith and hope aren’t the same thing.

When hope fails, faith can still push on.

It’s a rugged obedience that says I will go back to Pharaoh, even though I know he won’t listen. I will do it because You ask me to and despite everything, I trust you.

Will Moses do it?

Will we?

Day 63: “May the Lord judge and punish you”

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Before you read: Moses and Aaron visit Pharaoh. They tell him God wants the Israelites to make a three-day journey out of Egypt to offer Him sacrifices. What God? asks Pharaoh, I don’t know this God. Why should I listen to Him?

Read Exodus 5:4-6:1

But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”

That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”

10 Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I will not give you any more straw. 11 Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.’” 12 So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. 13 The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” 14 And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”

15 Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? 16 Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.”

17 Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

19 The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” 20 When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, 21 and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”

“Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.”

Sure hope so.

It’s one of the great, frustrating mysteries of God, that He so often lets things get worse before making them better. Bricks without straw – now the Israelites are being whipped because they can’t do the impossible, and it’s all Moses’ fault.

They are quick to turn on him and who can blame them? They were promised freedom and a land of their own – everything wonderful. But instead they have more trouble than ever. “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh.”

Moses does the only thing he can – he runs to God. I can just hear him, I knew it! I knew it! I knew it! This is his worst nightmare. It absolutely confirms all the fears that kept him from wanting to do this job in the first place. Now he’s made a fool of himself, Pharaoh is laughing at him, his own people hate him – again – and rightly so because their suffering is horrible, and God does nothing.

Why Lord?

Ever asked that? Why is this so hard? Why aren’t you doing anything? Moses has been obedient. He did exactly what God told him to, and it only made things worse.

“Now you will see.”

I love God’s answer. He’s so marvellously unflappable. He doesn’t seem the least bit taken aback by all this trouble. Why, it almost seems as though He planned it. “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.”

He’s like a strong man getting ready to display his power. To make it truly impressive he must gather enough weights to wow the crowd. It has to look impossible.  Otherwise it would just be ordinary. What’s the good of a God who can free people from someone who’s weak, or easily persuaded? No, Pharaoh needs to be fanatically committed to keeping the Israelites enslaved.

Pharaoh needs to be strong, so God can be stronger.

Day 62: The people of Israel were convinced

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Read Exodus 4:10-31

10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

14 Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.”

18 Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.”

Jethro said, “Go, and I wish you well.”

19 Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.

21 The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’”

24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it.

Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about all the signs he had commanded him to perform.

29 Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30 and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31 and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

They believe – at last.

“Moses performed the miraculous signs as they watched.”

Oh ya, Moses does miracles now.

Last time they saw him he was a cowardly murderer, running away. Now he’s their hero.

I wonder if he’s nervous as he throws the staff down, wondering whether God will come through. I would be. He doesn’t know how to make a stick turn into a snake. All he can do is throw it down. If God doesn’t act, it will look as though Moses, well, dropped his stick.

Not powerful, just clumsy.

God has arranged things so Moses will always need Him.

And obey Him. This strange episode with the angel and Zipporah is confusing but it makes one thing very clear: God still demands obedience to the covenant of circumcision.

By the time Moses stands in front of the Israelites, he has experienced God in ways both powerful and scary; personal and tender. He’s ready to be God’s representative.

The Israelites, meanwhile, beaten and worn down by the Egyptians, are more than ready to hear from God and what does He say? I’ve come to rescue you and lead you into your own fertile and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey (3:8).

How sweet! Not only will God free them, but He’ll give them their own land, a land oozing with good things. It sounds like Paradise, like the Garden of Eden – like the life of their dreams.

Sound familiar? It’s the same thing He did with Abraham, offering him the life of his dreams; and to Joseph God gave literal dreams and then – after a long while – the life of his dreams. Moses too, finally standing among his own people, accepted by them and able to help them – this is his dream.

The Author of the Story knows our deepest yearnings because He put them there. He created us for a purpose and that purpose is what we long for.  Even when it gets corrupted, when our God-given dream gets twisted, still at its core is the original – good – desire.

Somewhere in the heart of everyone is a breathless ache that waits to hear the invitation now given to the despairing Israelites: Come home to me. I’ve made a place all ready for you and you’re going to love it. I’ve filled it to bursting with good things for you to enjoy.

Come, let’s dance.

Day 61: “Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me”

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Read Exodus 3:11-4:9

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

21 “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”

4Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”

Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”

Then the Lord said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous[d]—it had become as white as snow.

“Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.

Then the Lord said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.”

Like it’s the easiest thing in the world.

‘Just turn your staff into a snake; or put skin disease somewhere; or, oh I dunno, turn water into blood.’ God is saying, ‘It’s not hard, Moses, to prove I’m with you. Just show them my power.’

Right.

All along, God is answering Moses’ initial question which, by the way, is an excellent question. “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”

Who is he, this misfit failure of a man? Who am I to dare write these words? Who are you to do … that – whatever it is? Why should any of us ever think we have anything to contribute to the Story God is writing?

It’s such a great question!

It’s great because it brings us to the answer we so desperately need, the answer that makes sense of everything, the answer that restores harmony to the Story. The answer is: “I will be with you.”

I will be with you.

God doesn’t give Moses a pep talk. He doesn’t try to build him up, ‘No really, Moses, you have all kinds of great qualities…’ pshaw. Moses does, in fact, have all kinds of great qualities which we’ll see as we read on, and he is uniquely qualified for this job, but God doesn’t mention any of that.

I will be with you.

It’s not about what you bring, Moses. It’s about Me.

This is so freeing.

If God had told Moses that he was qualified because of some particular reason, Moses might always be afraid of being dis-qualified by some new reason. So, God takes the pressure off.

It doesn’t matter, Moses, who you are. It doesn’t even matter who you might turn out to be.

I will be with you.

What can Moses say? Nothing. If God will be with him then all questions are answered, all objections satisfied.

Still. Moses really, really doesn’t want to do this thing. He will stand and argue more but he can’t win because God already has. He has chosen Moses. He has called him, and He will go with him.

At every point along the way, God will be available to him.

So don’t worry, Moses.

Just do miracles.