The just-completed sermon series in our church here was on Exodus, chapters 16-20, and I thought it worthwhile to collect a few thoughts prompted by it. So below I have one thought on each chapter — plus an opening and closing thought, not tied to any particular chapter.
Opening thought: Our pastor noted in the first sermon that a key lesson of Exodus is the “difficult challenge of leadership,” and that’s certainly true.
What’s more, when you think about it, I think this makes Exodus, if not unique, at least different from much of the rest of the other Old Testament historical narratives, where the focus is on the foibles and failures of the leaders themselves, rather than the difficult task leaders can have when their followers are even more deeply flawed. Thus, I think there is much more about Saul’s or David’s or Solomon’s sins than those of the Israelites under them. That’s not to say that the stiffneckness (if that is a word) of the Israelites is ever completely absent, but just that the difficulties this presents for their own leadership is most emphasized in Exodus.
A problem raised by the first part of chapter 16 is how to complain and how not to complain. The Israelites are starving to death, so surely they are entitled to be unhappy and to bewail their dire straits. But they have should prayed to God, not criticize Him (or His messenger, Moses). Some Calvinists seem to suggest that anyone unhappy with the status quo is rebelling against (the sovereign) God; I don’t buy that, and I think the Bible makes clear that God Himself is often unhappy with the status quo. So pray to God for strength and wisdom in responding, and for His help in changing things.
Here’s the battle with the Amalekites in chapter 17:
8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”
Now, what is going on here? Why would God — who of course could have just obliterated the Amalekites on His own whenever He felt like it — go to the trouble of not only using Moses but also apparently requiring him to hold his staff up throughout the whole battle when He knew the old man wouldn’t be able to?
I think we have here an instance where God did what He did because He knew the lesson that would be drawn when it was read about in the Scripture He inspired: That we believers are a team, and need the help of other believers. Of course, nearly all Scripture teaches us something, but sometimes it’s clearer than others that God has orchestrated a narrative with an eye precisely on what future generations would learn from it. (Of course, even before it was written down, the events here in chapter 17 and their oral retelling would have taught the lesson, too.)
Re the delegation lesson Exodus 18: One way to think about this is to ask the two questions, “What work for Him would God like me to spend more time doing? And what would God want me to spend less time doing?”
A lot happened on Mt. Sinai. According to the first footnote that my NIV study Bible has on chapter 19 in Exodus:
Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb) is one of the most sacred locations in Israel’s history. Located in the south-central Sinai peninsula, this mountain is where Moses met God in a burning bush, God made his covenant with Israel, and Elijah heard God in the gentle whisper. Here God gave his people the laws and guidelines for right living. They learned the potential blessings of obedience (Ex 34:4-28) and the tragic consequences of disobedience (Ex 34:32).
In chapter 20, we reach the Ten Commandments, the “sensible sequence” of which I wrote about here. In this post, I’ll just note that, in the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” does not mean the same thing as to “Obey your father and your mother.” Sometimes, especially when you are younger, the two may be the same, but as we grow older it may mean, instead, “respect” or at least “listen to.” You can honor someone even when they have not asked you to obey them about something, and it’s even the case that sometimes obeying them will not honor them. Honoring may mean taking care of, or forgiving, or bringing them to Christ.
Closing thought: I have added this addendum to an earlier post I had on “A New Year Thought: OT/NT Complementarity”:
A pastor at our church noted that the great redemption in the Old Testament is the deliverance of the Hebrews out of Egypt, presaging Christ’s greater Redemption for all mankind in the New Testament. And he also noted that in neither case did redemption hinge on following the law (indeed, Moses didn’t even get the tablets until after getting through the Red Sea).