PART THREE: Redeeming Israel
Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 15. Redeeming Israel – the Exodus
2 Sam 7:23,23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God
Redemption and the Exodus: We are going to step back from considering individuals for a moment – we will pick up on individuals in the New Testament again later – so that we can see the big view of redemption in the Old Testament, specifically in the life of the whole nation of Israel. The verses above, about the Exodus, were spoken by King David in prayer and they show us that this idea was well established in the history of Israel. After the Exodus, Moses and Israel sang a song of victory in which we find, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 15:13) in that they were following the terminology used by the Lord Himself before it all happened: “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.” (Ex 6:6)
Wider Application: Now normally when preachers speak about redeeming they focus on a price to be paid, which is natural when we consider Jesus dying for us on the Cross, but the greatest strength of this word is to do with ‘delivering out of’, so when the apostle Paul in the New Testament says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law,” (Gal 3:13) he is using the word in the same way as it was used in the Exodus, to bring us out from living under the shadow of the curse that comes with failure to keep the Law. We have been delivered from that life. Using the Lord’s language in Ex 6, we might say, “Christ freed us from a life of slavery to guilt and shame in trying to keep all the Law and failing.”
Deliverance and Process: Now one of the points I have been seeking to make again and again in these studies so far, is that redemption is not only about the initial act of delivering out of the old bad way but is also about the ongoing process whereby God is working in our lives to make sure we stay delivered. For us as Christians, once we have been redeemed by Christ’s death applied to our lives at conversion, there is this ongoing work of the Lord to ensure the work continues.
The Lifeboat Illustration: Now I know I have used this illustration more than once over the years – and I don’t know where it originated – but I think the lifeboat story is possibly the best illustration of this I have ever encountered. A ship is foundering out at sea. A lifeboat goes out to it and the passengers are transferred into the lifeboat. They are redeemed. Now the lifeboat turns away and makes the long journey back to the land. They are being redeemed. When they get to the shore they get off the lifeboat and are secure on the land. They are well and truly redeemed. Christ is the lifeboat. We are the passengers. The ship is our ‘old life’. When we get off it into the lifeboat we are now ‘in Christ’ and the journey back to land is our present life. The shore is heaven. We were redeemed, we are being redeemed and we will be well and truly redeemed.
The Deliverance from Egypt: The Exodus should have had three elements. What we tend to focus on and call ‘The Exodus’, the deliverance out of slavery, out of Egypt, was part one. Part two should have been of a few months duration, the travelling through the desert in the presence of the Lord, with Him providing for them as they travelled, culminating in them entering into the Promised Land (part three). Of course we know that part two was extended to forty years because Israel refused to enter the Land under the Lord’s guiding and so stayed in the desert until everyone over the age of twenty at that time, eventually died off and only the younger generation and subsequent generations growing up under them, were then free to go in and take the Land under Joshua.
The Deliverance from the Desert: Now I think many of us are so familiar with this story that we fail to see that what I have just described was God’s act of mercy in redeeming Israel. How we take for granted these events but consider an alternative scenario: when Israel rebelled and grumbled, as they did a number of times on the journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai, the Lord could have wiped out a portion of them as a short sharp shock to bring them round, but instead, in that period, we find He is most lenient with them. It is like He treats them as an immature child who has yet to learn.
Sinai to the Land: At Mount Sinai they have amazing revelations of Him and yet even while they are still there, they rebel over the matter of the golden calf, but only those who appear to have been involved with it die, a very small percentage of the population. On the journey from Sinai, the level of discipline is higher; they have had revelation should know better. When they get to the border of the Promised Land they have had opportunity after opportunity to learn and to trust the Lord and so when they rebel, God could have wiped them all out with the exception of one or two faithful families perhaps. After all that was what the Lord had offered Moses on Sinai: “my anger shall blaze out against them and destroy them all; and I will make you, Moses, into a great nation instead of them,” (Ex 32:10) yet Moses had realised that that was not what was really on God’s heart and spoke against that happening. But it could have if God were not a God of mercy and grace.
The Discipline of the Forty Years: So why did God allow forty years to pass, forty years in which only very slowly, by natural causes, the people over the age of twenty at the time of the Exodus died? The answer has got to be because the Lord works on the long-term redemption of Israel and that means preserving a remnant who will continue the name and continue the culture. That generation under twenty, and all those born in that forty-year period in the desert, would never forget the fundamentals of what is happening here, that the God with whom they are now related, is holy and requires obedience. The forty years is less for those who died and more for those who survived; they have to learn because they still have the taking of the Land in front of them.
Further Redemption: But can we see this, that the Lord’s intent is to redeem Israel from themselves!!!!! They are in a learning process, they have to grow up and mature, they have to change. He has redeemed them from Egypt and now He has to get Egypt out of them. And here’s the thing, that is exactly as it is with us. He redeems us from our old life but now He is redeeming us and getting our old life out of us. When we are born again – with a new identity, cleansed from the past and forgiven, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the past should have gone but when you look at some of the teaching of the New Testament, you realize it is an ongoing process.
Examples: Consider some of the teaching from the apostles. Paul’s teaching in Rom 6 is about the change we are to consider that has taken place in our life when we came to Christ, but he still instructs, “Do not let sin control your puny body any longer; do not give in to its sinful desires.” (6:12) i.e. he recognizes that we still battle with sin, a hangover from the old life if you like. When he says, “do not” (twice) he is calling on us to make acts of the will to overcome the old tendency that lurks in the background. Similarly the apostle John in his first letter says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) i.e. he too recognizes that we have a battle with sin and sometimes can fail. When the apostle Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” (Phil 4:6) by the very fact that he is writing this, he is acknowledging that sometimes life is tough, and we will give way to anxiety, and so he gives us the pathway to overcome it. Each of these three illustrations show us that life is an ongoing battle that we overcome with the grace of God, the help of Jesus at the Father’s right hand, ruling in heaven, and the Holy Spirit indwelling us.
Jesus’ Example: Now we have just said that this phase of our redemption is a process of change and so often we say that it is to change more into the likeness of Jesus. As the NLT says, “the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Cor 3:18) But perhaps we wonder, if Israel was being taught to trust the Lord more, and we are being taught to be transformed into Jesus’ likeness, how does that work? Well, let’s take three simple examples of things that go on in this process of change, where God seeks to ensure we are able to keep on and fully walk out our lives as His children, growing in grace. Remember, Jesus our example.
Learning to resist the enemy with God’s word and God’s presence: See Jesus being tempted. How does he overcome the enemy? With knowing God’s will through God’s word. What is the apostolic teaching: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) That’s the order: draw near to the Lord and then you can resist the enemy in such measure that he will flee.
Learning to trust without seeing: Realise the basis of discipleship. Fairly recently I imagined a conversation between Jesus and one of his disciples when he first called him: Hi, I’m Jesus. Yes, I know, I’ve heard about you. OK, well now I want you to leave what you’re doing and follow me. How long for? As long as I have to train you to carry on doing what I do. How long will that take? Come along and see. What will we be doing? I’ll show you when you follow me. How will we do it? I’ll show you when you follow me. Do you see the point? It is when we have once started following Jesus that he will then show us the way. As the apostle Paul said, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)
Learning to do what Jesus did: Jesus’ teaching is scary: “I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) Now before you panic (“I don’t know how to cast out demons or raise the dead!!!!”) remember that we said this is a process, learning takes time and God knows how fast you can learn and won’t put you into circumstances beyond that which you can cope with, using His grace.
Redemption again: So there it is. Redemption is not only the original deliverance, it is also the ongoing process of change. The scary thing about the picture of Israel in the desert is that it shows us it is possible to resist God and you can stay there and fail to enter into the wonder of all the Lord has for you (the Promised Land = the kingdom of God?) which is why the writer to the Hebrews gave such a strong warning (Heb 3:7-19), warning against hardheartedness (v.8), holding on faithfully to the end (v.14), resisting disobedience (v.18) and unbelief (v.19). Challenging and encouraging.