Exodus 15

The Israelites are now on the far side of the Red Sea, out of Pharaoh’s control, their new life as a free people has begun. “When Israel saw the great power that the LORD had exercised over the Egyptians they feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses”. When we see and experience God’s great saving acts it inspires us to praise and worship like Moses and Miriam songs of praise. The LORD God Almighty is strong and reliable, able and willing to save us; He is a warrior that will defend his people. He rescued the Israelites with His mighty right hand and shattered the Egyptian army. The Israelites headed into the desert rejoicing, in confidence that God was their guide and nothing could defeat them. The LORD will lead the people He redeemed and He will guide them with strength to Mt. Sinai.

Exodus 15 begins with the image of Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron and Moses, leading all the women with drums, dancing and singing into the desert singing praises to the LORD. But their three month journey to Mt. Sinai doesn’t start magnificently; they cannot find any water for three days. Their joy and praise doesn’t last long, soon they are grumbling, rebelling against Moses and questioning the LORD’s purpose to take them out of Egypt.

The three day journey into the desert reminds us of Moses’ demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go on a three day journey into the wilderness to worship the LORD. Here they are, three days into the wilderness and they find no water, then they arrive at Marah to only find bitter water. Their joy is turned quickly to complaint; they suffered under bitter labor in Egypt, they ate bitter herbs and now in their new freedom they are confronted with bitter waters.

This is the first of many tests on the far side of the Red Sea, whenever the Israelites are tested, when they face a crisis, their first response – their automatic reaction is to grumble and complain against Moses and the LORD. They are not merely complaining, they are questioning God’s ability and motives. Moses’ response is to cry out to the LORD, who shows Moses a piece of wood to throw into the water to make it drinkable. God answers their cries, calms their fears and once again supplies what they need at the right time.

The LORD makes a binding ordinance with the Israelites: If you will obey the LORD your God and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to His commandments and keep all of His statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the LORD am your healer. God gave the Israelites a simple principle, obedience brings blessings and disobedience brings judgment. God will turn the bitter into sweet for His people, if they will obey.

Following this test God leads the Israelites to a place of rest, they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees and they camped there by the water. We don’t know how long the Israelites stayed at Elim, but God gave them rest and the provision of water in preparation for the next step of their journey.

Worship, Bitterness and Rest: these themes intertwine throughout Exodus. How often are our songs of praise and worship turned quickly to bitterness when things don’t go as we have planned? We rejoice when things are running smoothly, thankful to God for all His provisions. But when our joy turns to bitterness and disappointments, we doubt God’s goodness and His plan for our life. God brought the Israelites to Marah to heal them; this bitterness was a reflection of their weak faith. The same God that defeated the Egyptian army will heal their bitterness; “Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power”. When it feels like our world is crumbling to pieces, we need to remember that God is in control, He is the healer and He will rescue us from our pain.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving – let us rejoice in the goodness of God, who promises to heal our bitterness and provides us with every good and perfect gift.

Christ in the Passover Celebration

God instituted the yearly celebration of the Passover Feast as a reminder of God’s great rescue of the Israelites from slavery and oppression in Egypt. It is commemorated yearly by Jews and Christians as a remembrance of God’s great victory over the forces of evil.

There are differing views regarding the Last Supper and Passover, Matthew, Mark and Luke squish the three years of Jesus’ ministry into one story line they strongly suggest that Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples was the Passover Celebration. However, John’s Gospel lays out the entire three years of Jesus’ Ministry with multiple trips to Jerusalem during the festivals and many confrontations with the Pharisees. John clearly writes that Jesus was tried and killed before the Passover began; John calls it the Day of Preparation. According to John’s gospel, Jesus was crucified at the same time that the lambs were slaughtered for the Seder dinner. Jesus was quickly placed in the tomb, before sunset so that the Passover would not be violated. Whether it was the Seder meal or the night before, Jesus gave new meaning to the elements. The Passover was on their minds as Jesus takes the bread and the wine to give them new symbolic meaning.

Pesach is Hebrew for Passover which includes the days of preparation; the actual meal is called a Seder. Exodus 6:6-7 is the scriptural basis for the rituals of four cups of wine used in the memorial.
1. The Cup of Sanctification – “I will bring you out”
2. The Cup of Plagues (Judgment) – “I will free you”
3. The Cup of Redemption – “I will redeem you”
4. The Cup of Praise – “I will take you”

The meal begins with lighting the candles and blessing the first cup; this is more than a meal it is a worship service. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the LORD’s death until he comes”.

“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine” – this same blessing is repeated with each cup.

Following the blessing, the leader ceremonially washes his hands, then picks up the sprig of parsley dips in the salt water and eats it. The parsley represents life and the salt water represents the tears of the Israelites from the sufferings they endured as slaves in Egypt. This also reminds us of our tears when we were separated from God by our sins, it represents the pain of loneliness and the despair of a life lived without God.

Jesus applied new meaning to the ceremonial washing at the Last Supper when he took off his garment and washed the feet of each disciple, including Judas, who would betray him that very night. With the tears of betrayal in his eyes Jesus teaches his followers a new lesson on servant leadership: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

The re-telling of Exodus begins with a reminder of how the Israelites became slaves in Egypt, a Pharaoh arose that did not know of Joseph and his good deeds, and so he enslaved the Jews and made their lives harsh with oppression and humiliation. This is a reminder that if God had not rescued the Israelites, they and their children would still be slaves today. In the same way, if God had not sent His only Son as a sacrificed for us, then we would for all generations still be trapped by sin and eternal death.

The second cup, the cup of plagues begins the Haggadah which means “the telling” – the story of the plagues and God great and mighty deeds. The blessing is said, but no one drinks the cup until the telling is complete. The Haggadah is based on four questions, which is the central part of the Seder.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
1. On all other nights we eat either bread or matzah; on this night, why only matzah?
2. On all other nights we eat herbs or vegetables of any kind; on this night why bitter herbs?
3. On all other nights we do not dip even once; on this night why do we dip twice?
4. On all other nights we eat our meals in any manner; on this night why do we sit around the table together in a reclining position?

On Passover we eat only Matzah, because the Israelites did not have time to allow their bread to rise when they left Egypt. Yeast has become a metaphor for the influence of sin in our lives, prior to the feast of unleavened bread Jews sweep clean any yeast from their houses. As we approach the communion table we too should sweep clean the sin in our life by acknowledging and confessing our sins to the LORD.

At this point in the meal Jews celebrate the Afikomen, with the breaking of the middle matzah. On the leaders table is a plate of three matzah crackers, separated by napkins, he reaches into the middle and breaks the matzah, takes a piece, wraps it in a cloth and hides it in the room. The small piece that is hidden under a pillow is the Afikomen. This was not a part of the Passover that Jesus would have celebrated; this tradition did not come into practice until after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. At the end of the meal, the children go in search of the Afikomen which is redeemed by the leader.

The meal continues with eating the bitter herbs, the sweet Charoset as a reminder of their hope in God and the comfort they now enjoy as a free people. Next is the recitation of the ten plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart against the LORD and refused to let the Israelites go: blood, frogs, lice, flies, death of cattle, boils, hail locusts, darkness and death of firstborn. As we recite the plagues we dip a finger in the wine dropping it like blood on our plate. But God gave his people a way to escape the 10th plague: the blood of the perfect lamb could take the place of the first-born of the family. God gave Moses specific instructions to follow that night, the night the angel of death passed over their houses. They were to sacrifice a perfect lamb and mark their door frames with its blood. They roasted the lamb whole with no broken bone, they made unleavened bread and gathered bitter herbs. The Israelites ate their meal standing up ready to leave Egypt when God commanded.

John the Baptist declared when he saw Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus is our perfect Passover lamb; by his sacrifice we are redeemed. God rescued the Israelites from slavery with mighty acts and he rescues us from a life of sin by the sacrifice of His Son Jesus.
The Afikomen is ransomed after dinner is finished. The children find the hidden matzah and bring it to the leaders to redeem. But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave –just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

The third cup is the Cup of Redemption. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The final fourth cup is the Cup of Praise also called Elijah’s Cup. The leader says, this cup is for Elijah the prophet, who will come before the Messiah returns. The last verse in the Old Testament is Malachi 4:5; “Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.” Jewish people look for Elijah’s return on Passover, so they set a place for him at the table and open the door to welcome him. Christians acknowledge that Elijah has come in the person of John the Baptist and that the Messiah has come as Jesus of Nazareth. We open the door in expectation of the second coming of the Messiah, when He will return in glory.

The Seder ends with the traditional greeting: Next year in Jerusalem.

Exodus 13 & 14

Exodus 13 begins with the LORD commanding the Israelites to dedicate every firstborn male, human and animal to the LORD. From this point forward all firstborn males in Israel belong to the LORD. The clarification for this is that all of the firstborn Israelites escaped death in Egyptian plague, not because they did anything to be worthy, but because of God’s grace. Since God redeemed their lives, they now belonged to the LORD as will all future firstborn of Israel. The birth and dedication of every firstborn son was an occasion to remember what God did to rescue the Israelites. When you consider of the big picture, it was God that changed the course of history; He brought the Israelites out from slavery in Egypt and He made them into a nation. The Israelites are reminded that their survival and existence is because the LORD has saved and redeemed them.

Additionally God established the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven day annual commemoration of their exit from Egypt and the redeeming of every firstborn male and animal of the Israelites. This celebration and consecration will be a sign for the Israelites; the blood sign of the sacrificed lamb on the door posts of Egypt saved the firstborn of Israel, now the Israelites were to place a sign on their hand and forehead to indicate who they belonged to – the LORD God Almighty who redeemed them with mighty works.

God led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert. The Israelites went out from the land prepared for battle, that is with confidence and defiant attitude and they took the bones of Joseph with them; no turning back now. God led them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; they traveled day and night following the direction of the LORD. God never left them; day and night he was leading the Israelites.

God has one more deliverance from Egypt; this will mark the division between bondage in Egypt and the establishment of Israel as a nation. The LORD will finally and completely deliver the Israelites from Pharaoh’s dominion. The LORD directs the Israelites to turn back and camp next to the Red Sea. This apparent wandering and camping in a vulnerable place cause Pharaoh to think the Israelites are confused and ripe for recapture. But God was in control, it was all a part of His plan and intended for His glory.

Pharaoh and his people decided they would defy the LORD and bring the Israelites back into slavery. Pharaoh sent his army, the elite of his officers and his best chariots to chase down the Israelites; they cornered the Israelites between the desert and the Red Sea. As the Egyptian army appears on the horizon the Israelite’s confidence and defiance quickly turns to fear. They instantly turned on Moses; their arrogance fails them with the present danger. Moses calmly delivers the LORD’s message, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD that he will provide for you today; for the Egyptians that you see today you will never, ever see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you can be still”.

To stand firm means to station yourself without fleeing; the Israelites wanted to flee but when they stand, they will see the Salvation of the LORD. Moses assures the people that the LORD will do the work this day, you can be still – but even more you must be still and stand, then you will see, know and experience the LORD’s deliverance. What an incredible message for us today, we need to stand firm, in our faith knowing that the same God who delivered Israel by mighty works redeems us this day. We are still called to stand firm, be still and stand firm and then we will see the LORD’s deliverance.

God instructs Moses to tell the people to move and God opens the way. The LORD moved the dark cloud and pillar of fire from the front of the Israelites to the rear of the people; God stood firm without moving, stationing Himself as the rear guard. There was dark night was on the Egyptian side and bright light on the Israelites side for the entire night. Moses holds up his staff towards the sea and it separates so that the Israelites could run through the middle of the sea on dry ground. They crossed the Red Sea on dry ground during the night watch, from 2am to 6am; they did so with a wall of water on their left and their right. At dawn the Egyptians aggressively chase after the Israelites into the middle of the sea, they are seemingly unaware and confused about the imminent danger. Then God throws the Egyptian army into a panic, the chariots wheels are jammed, the horses can’t move, the pursuing hordes run full force into the army of one, the LORD God Almighty. The Egyptians attempt to flee, but cannot, God’s deliverance for Israel is also the judgment against the Egyptians.

The LORD tells Moses to again extend his staff toward the sea, and the waters flowed back trapping the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The Egyptian army that the Israelites feared was destroyed by the command of the LORD. “The LORD saved Israel on that day from the power of the Egyptians. When Israel saw the great power of the LORD, they feared the LORD and believed in his servant Moses”.

“We cannot move forward until we have had a time of standing firm, waiting upon God and anticipating the ways He has planned for us. When our eyes have seen and our hearts have discerned His plans, then we can go forward with the Lord. You may be sure the Lord will not give a command without providing the way for willing hearts to obey”.