I'm Australian. Actually, my Grandfather on my dad's side was born in Yorkshire, and I believe my Grandmother emigrated from England too, or at least her family did. On Mum's side Grandpa was Australian born, but from a Dutch / German family; Mum's mum was a Driscoll so I guess there's Irish in me too.
But all that history stuff aside, I'm Australian, well as Australian as anyone gets really – we're almost all imports in Australia. Our national history doesn't go back very far. We were only constituted a nation in 1901, before that we were simply British.
Still, we're a patriotic lot – we celebrate the arrival of the first fleet every year on 26th January, we celebrate the Queens birthday on the first weekend in June, but above all else we celebrate ANZAC day – on the 25th April. The first fleet landed on Jan 26th, we were federated as a nation on 1st Jan 1901, but we consider that the nation came of age in the battles of World War 1.
Above all else we look back to one dramatic, and ultimately unsuccessful battle in the war – the battle of Gallipoli, the first ever action in war for the ANZACs. As I was taught it at school the battle was lost long before it was fought – poor planning, long delays and terrible execution meant that thousands of Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC's) troops were unloaded onto (the wrong) beaches that were heavily defended by Turkish troops. Like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan most of them were shredded where they stood and never made it off the beach. Those that did never made it any further. But despite being outnumbered many times over, and despite being cut off from supplies, suffering extreme heat and cold, chronic dysentery etc. etc. they managed to hold their positions for 8 months before their bumbling British officers finally gave up on the suicide mission. That's how I learned it at school – they might teach it differently here??
As we remember it, in those trenches the Australian nation was born. We showed courage, mate-ship, physical prowess, an affinity with the outdoors – the things we want to be known for today. Incidentally our desire to beat the poms in all forms of sporting arena apparently also sprung from the way our troops suffered from your officers… Every year we remember the courage of those first diggers and all who've followed them into war and we pledge 'we will remember them'. The secular service of remembrance even says 'We wish to be worthy of their great sacrifice. Let us, therefore, once again dedicate ourselves to the service of the ideals for which they died'.
Why am I telling you this – well I've missed a few ANZAC days now, I need to keep the story fresh, lest I start to think of myself as in someway British. But more seriously, because it's an illustration - a pale imitation even - of the very thing we're going to look at in our passage tonight. In the same way that Australians look back to that battle as our defining moment, so the Exodus was Israel's defining moment.
Our passage tonight looks at the Exodus from two perspectives, describing the events themselves as they happened, and instituting a remembrance of them that was designed to make sure that this exodus would define their national character in perpetuity. So the passage teaches two distinct but very closely related points – God saved the Israelites by punishing the Egyptians; and God saved Israel for himself – they now belonged to him, so he set out to ensure they would always remember the details of their rescue so that they could always remember who they are and what it was that made them who they are.
In fact that's the theme of the whole of Exodus – the whole thing has this double function – it is an amazing act of rescue, God delivering his captive people out of Slavery and into a land of their own so that they can serve him there. And that rescue itself is a giant teaching aid – a lesson so graphic and powerful that they should never forget it. Yet they do forget it, and so it not only points back to the rescue from Egypt, but it also points to the need for a still greater rescue, from a still more powerful foe, a more powerful slavery that the people of Israel never fully escaped – the slavery to sin.
Two points follow the two lines of the action in the passage:
God Saves Israel by Judging Egypt (vs. 29—42); &
God Saves Israel to be His Own (vs. 40—13.16).
These aren't hard to follow, but let's tease open the details a little… We'll start with point one:
God Saves Israel by Judging Egypt (verses 29—42); and
Read with me from verse 29:
Exo 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. 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 favourably disposed towards the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
This is the first climax of the action of Exodus, the greatest plague, the worst disaster to come on the nation of Egypt – so far, at least. Sadly for them it will get far worse in the near future when Pharaoh once again hardens his heart and goes back on his word and decides to track them down and re-enslave them… but that's a story for another week. At this point this is the worst thing that has happened to Egypt, and it is finally the tipping point, the event that tips Pharaoh over the edge, that finally overcomes his resistance to the LORD's will.
The final outcome is not so good for Egypt, but it is very good for Israel.
God saves Israel by judging Egypt – the fundamental point is God's rescue. Just as God promised he would, he overcomes the resistance of Pharaoh and brings his people out of Egypt. Israel had been in painful bondage for so long they didn't know how to hope for release – remember how they responded to Moses and Aaron – the Lord curse you, you've put a stick in Pharaoh's hand to beat us and made us a stench in his nostrils! They had no hope of rescue, no concept of how to hope even. But God delivers them out of the land of bondage.
God saves Israel by judging Egypt. He does so in such a way that no one can argue that the glory belongs to anyone else. God has targeted all the gods of Egypt and proved his superiority over each of them, climaxing with the man on the throne who styled himself Egypt's god. The heir to the throne, the son of god, the next pharaoh is struck down.
As a sub-feature of this dimension there is the note of fulfilment – God has been quite precise about his promises in these chapters, and all he promised comes to pass here.
God saves Israel by judging Egypt And after decimating Egypt's wealth and food supply God decimates a whole future generation of Egyptians.
God. Israel walks out of a defeated and almost completely destroyed Egypt. The greatest fears of Egypt have been realised, they've lost their slave labour force – and their pride and high standing with them. But the damage is far more extensive than it would have been if their slaves had simply walked off, they were ruined, and then plundered. As they go Pharaoh begs for a blessing to end all this cursing, and the Egyptians urged them to hurry or they would all die!
Illustration – The film Taken - the full power of a Father's anger to save his daughter who was taken into slavery …. a frightening and brutal story; but strangely there are parallels here - God's love is fierce and he comes down on Egypt in furious anger when Egypt tries to claim his son as a slave.
This is so rich in lessons for us that we could be here all night, but let's very briefly pick up a few lessons about God:
– God is real and active – not imaginary, but powerful beyond imagination; and
– God is a God who rescues. Perhaps the fundamental lesson of the Exodus, he doesn't leave his people in bondage (at least, not forever), but he comes down and delivers them.
– He is a God who takes people to be his own, and who loves and cares for his people. The reason Israel are rescued is because they were already his, he chose Abraham and promised to bless his descendants: Remember Gen 12:1-3 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
– He is a God who is faithful to all his promises. Not just the promises to Abraham, from the chaper 4 onwards God's been saying things would end like this, and it happens just as he said.
– He is a God who accommodates to us – the whole exodus could have been very much shorter, as God says to Pharaoh (9.15) 'by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth – but I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth'. He knows we need to see to believe, so he acts in history so we can believe.
– He is a God who has history in his hand – he not only controls these events, but he has an eye on the future too – he sets up the repeated rituals so that people in generations to come will remember; and he deliberately shapes these events in this time to prepare us for the decisive redemption/rescue in the time to come. He's establishing a pattern that will be decisively fulfilled when Jesus comes to buy his people out of slavery 1500 – 2000 years later. God's history is purposeful, not just a series of events, but God working out his plans and purposes in real time and space. Why the atheists are barking up the wrong tree when they think that science can disprove God – there is too great a body of historical work to deal with, not just a scientific issue, need to undo thousands of years of historical revelation.
What does it teach us about life and sin and the world? Some thoughts:
- God has powerful enemies – we shouldn't be surprised when the rich and powerful, the intellectual and the popular line up to oppose God – like Pharaoh we all want to think ourselves god. But no matter how powerful no one comes close to God.
- and like Pharaoh in sin we rage against God, even though it's so fundamentally stupid to do so. The evidence for God's superiority was overwhelming – but Pharaoh kept rejecting God's authority over him – right up until it cost him his son. And he's not finished fighting God yet. Madness, but very human. And it's underwritten by a greater enemy, Satan, a greater enemy who is just the same – he knows he's lost but he won't stop rebelling.
- Judgement from God is a reality and it will be horrible. The judgement that fell on Egypt was, in the end, horrific. This is a graphic picture of the severity and universality of God's judgment when it arrives. From the highest born to the lowest, not one family is spared the judgement of God. Each and every one of them loses the first born son. They lost their livelihood, their crops, their livestock, their store of seed for the next year. They've endured their water supply turning to blood, invasive frogs and gnats and flies, plague on their animals, debilitating boils, terrifying hail storms, devastating locust swarms, impenetrable and unexplainable days of darkness… they're surely already reeling from the severity of God's judgement. Finally they lose their eldest sons. God's judgement doesn't bear thinking about – so don't fall into it, if you haven't yet put your trust in Jesus, do it today.
- God saves by judging – we heard about it this morning; God gave up his first born son so that we could be saved. That's a passion for our salvation.
So God saves Israel by Judging Egypt, it's awful and terrifying – even for Israel who escape unscathed. God teaches us that he is a mighty, mighty God. He has no rivals, no competitors worth the name. There are many imitators, but only One God. And God reveals his passionate commitment to his people – he will not let them go, he will not abandon them, he will not let them be mistreated and abused. And God reveals a portion of his righteous anger – his anger is terrible, and deserved. That's point one, God saves Israel by judging Egypt.
But there's a whole 'nother section to this passage, a very different aspect of the Passover that is emphasised just as strongly as the event of God's rescue itself – the instruction to re-enact it so that they will always remember, remember, remember what God has done.
So let's move on to point two:
God Saves Israel to be His – so he sets up annual reminders that they are His Saved People (vs. 40—13.16).
Read with me from 12.41
Exodus 12:41 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 honour the LORD for the generations to come.
The passage then goes on to set out four separate sets of regulations for remembering the Passover:
– The celebration of the meal is limited to Israelites and those who chose to join the covenant community, symbolised by circumcision;
– All first born sons or Israel are to be consecrated to God
– For ever after Israel must eat unlevened bread for a week before the Passover; and
– Forever after all first born of man or animal belongs to God – if it's a clean animal it must be sacrificed, if unclean and therefore not fit for sacrifice, something else must be sacrificed in it's place or it must die.
Do you think this is a little bit strange? These people are living through the most dramatic and intense events the nation has ever experienced. This is a time when people would be happy just to get out alive. But in the middle of all the drama, the fear, the tension, the craziness, God starts organising the commemorations for the year ahead. They haven't even left Egypt yet and God is telling them what their grandchildren should be doing when they're nicely settled in Israel…
And the whole focus and direction this is heading is remembering the exodus. Twice God says this will be for you like a sign on your hand or a reminder on your forehead. As if they'd need to get it tattooed on their hands to remember – but it doesn't sound like the sort of thing that anyone would ever forget does it? I mean, let's compare with a modern example: It's been how many years since the blitz? But the people who lived through it haven't forgotten what it was like.
Trauma like that you don't forget easily. We were walking in the Yorkshire dales last year on the anniversary of the battle of Britain and I heard an airplane in the distance – and my father in law who with us and said straight away 'Spit Fire' and then he started remembering the sounds and the experiences of bombing… Ron Norrie's an old sailor – he was in the Falklan's war, he still talks about the awful smell of the penguins and the terrible things he saw there… James Mclaren was telling me a couple of weeks ago what it was like being a peace keeper in Kosovo – ask him about the pig in the shed… The point is these sorts of things once experienced aren't easily forgotten. They stick in your memory and your mind goes back to them… a certain sound or smell or something else can trigger a memory and the whole thing comes back to us.
So why did God think that the Israelites might need a memory aid – let alone a whole series of memory aids?
There's two answers.
One is sin. Because within days they will forget that God had been powerful to save them and again complain against Moses and say you should have left us in Egypt, now Pharaoh's going to kill us out in the desert. And they'll fall into the same trap many more times before they get out of the desert. In fact, of the 600 000 men and their families who walked out of Egypt only 2 would walk into the promised land. Sin is so insidious that it makes them just as stupid as Pharaoh – they regularly forget that God is able to save and to judge and regularly fall into sinful unbelief. And sin has the same effect for us today - that's what the NT reading was about. Their sinful forgetting is a warning to us – don't be like them, but trust and obey.
The second answer is that this event was so significant, so momentous, that it would need to be remembered by people who weren't even there. Its significance would go beyond the next generation and the next generation on and on to dozens of generations. People who's great, great, great grandparents hadn't been born yet would need to remember this. This was the defining event for the whole nation, for every generation to come.
Why? Because they were being saved to be God's people. Remember chapter 6 what God said to Moses about what would happen in the Exodus –
Exodus 6:6 "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. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. "
They had always been God's people, that's true, but now they had a defining event to remember that by. This is ANZAC day, not Federation. If ever any Israelite wanted to ask 'what has God even done for us…' well this is the answer.
But the answer might not be obvious in 50 years time, or 100 years time, let alone 1500 or 2000 years later. It's easy for us to forget the things that happened before our time. But God wanted the nation to know that the things that happened on this night were important for every generation to come.
So he instituted a number of solemn rituals to remind them.
They were to re-enact the Passover meal itself, to re-create the meal, and the sense of urgency and haste and readiness to flee. In eating the lamb – the whole lamb, leaving nothing behind – inside their houses as if still expecting the angel of death to pass over they would remember the rescue that came at the cost of the lamb.
What's more in the Passover God had spared the firstborn sons and the first born of all the animals. So to remember that they were to consecrate every firstborn son. It was as if God had bought those sons, and now they belonged to him. So every first son would need to be 'bought back from God' – redeemed, just as God had redeemed the nation on the first Passover.
In setting aside every first born son and every first born animal they were remembering that God took the life of every first born – man and animal – and so their lives belonged to him.
But a one off meal, even an all night celebration, even a whole lamb, wouldn't be enough to remember the Passover. God wanted them to really remember it. So he instituted a week of preparation. They left in a hurry, with no time even to prepare their bread, just with the clothes on their backs and the gold the Egyptians gave them. So they were to remember the deprivations of being a refugee people by getting rid of yeast for a whole week. But it wasn't just to remember how they were deprived, it was also, we'll find out later, symbolic of leaving behind the influence of Egypt – symbolic that they were to be a different people, set apart for God.
And then God instructs them to sacrifice to him all the (clean) first born animals – and to redeem or kill every unclean first born animal.
Now all of this was designed as a sort of visual aide to teaching. God's intention was that the next generation would be confronted by things that are dramatic, confusing, even a little frightening and gory. And seeing these things going on, time after time, they would be forced to ask 'what's all this about'? And parents would be forced to explain that it was all about what God had done for them in the Exodus – God brought them out with an out stretched arm; God met Pharaoh's refusal to let them go with demonstrations of power, and ultimately with the death of all the first born of Egypt – both man and beast.
It's a dramatic history lesson isn't it? It re-enacts the events in a way that brings out their inner logic, their meaning – the lamb died in our place, God redeemed the whole nation out of slavery. He bought us. Now we belong to him in a special way. That means we need to be different to the nations around us. It means that we owe over very lives to God. Once a year we stop to solemnly and deliberately remember what he did for us so that we will always remember that we belong to him, he is our God and we are his people.
God is teaching them that they are no longer slaves in Egypt, but they are not their own either – he bought them for himself. They belong to him. God saved Isreal to be his – to belong to him 'I will be your God and you will be my people'. It's clear that there are many, many links to Jesus here. The biggest is the most obvious – the Passover represents salvation, the redemption of slaves from slavery to Egypt, to service of God. And we've been redeemed by God too. Our redemption came at the cost of the death of Jesus Christ, Peter says that by Jesus' precious blood we've been redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to us by our forefathers, … and a little later on 'you are a chosen people, a royal priest hood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light'.
What is the particular light that this passage throws on our situation? The point here is that God went to great lengths to ensure that they would always remember the things that he had done for them, so that their whole identity would be tied up in these events. He did that because we need that tethering to keep our identity fixed in these events so that we will continue to respond rightly to them.
Applications for us. We need to remember so we get our identity sorted out.
1) Israel's problems in the promised land: Sense of entitlement – when you get in and you eat the fat of the land, each with his own fig tree and vine, houses you did not build etc. don't forget God, thinking that you got all this because you deserved it. Deut 8.11-14 Belief that they achieved it through their own strength or might Wrongly directed worship – Exodus 32 and the infamous 'golden calf' incident à Aaron tells Israel 'these are your gods who brought you out of Egypt – tomorrow will be a festival to YHWH!!! Jeroboam repeats the same sin when he makes the two golden calves for the people of the Northern Kingdoms to worship so that they don't defect back to the South when they go down to worship God in the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12.28 'here are your god's O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt' – and then he set up a festival 'like the festival held in Judah' a mock Passover! Wrongly practiced worship – like the unauthorised fire of Aaron's sons in Leviticus 10. 2) Christian wrong belief – we get in by faith, stay in by obedience, no assurance, false pride we get in by works – no assurance, false pride we forget that it's all about Jesus – and end in false pride and haughty treatment of others. 3) Problem of a warped self identity: Charlie Sheen – 'winning' you can't process me with a normal brain – you don't drive the cars I drive, you don't have the kind of girls I've got at home – yes I said girls (emphasis on the plural); I don't have to play by the rules bc I'm above them, I'm some kind of special case à Adolf Hitler? Stalin? School bullies etc. The football/water polo team with all the excuses à victim mentality, we're not going to bother trying to overcome the obstacles in our way, we don't have to now, because we've found someone else to blame! Leads a warped sense of self, we're the victims in all this, we're always being thwarted by outside oppressors… The problem with the welfare state, creates aggrieved group who identify themselves as victims and everyone else as oppressors and develop an undue sense of entitlement. God saved Israel to be his – and God has saved us to be his. We need to remember what God has done for us lest we get our identity all mixed up. God's salvation in Jesus even greater than in Exodus. But our ability to forget is incredible – even if the words Jesus saves were tattooed on our hands and our foreheads we'd still find ways to forget… That's why we're told to keep meeting together, to encourage each other, that's why we're given baptism and the Lord's Supper as solemn reminders, why Christmas and East are important to celebrate, not just privately but big public celebrations. That's why we need to read the bible and pray every day. That's why we need to keep doing invitation services – even if no new people are here we need to hear the message of the gospel over and over and over again. This is our identity – we're not Australian or Northern Irish or Geordie or Scottish or British or Japanese – we're God's chosen people.