19. Redeeming Israel – The Exile

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 19. Redeeming Israel – The Exile

2 Chron 36:15-17   The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians

Recap: We have considered the redemption of Israel through the Exodus and then God’s ongoing redemptive activity getting them to Sinai and then into the Promised Land, His activity seeing them through their early years as recorded in Judges and then Solomon’s failure that resulted in the nation being divided into two. The next big milestone in Israel’s history that we now come to is the Exile.  When we did a study on Manasseh, we also considered the last six kings of Judah (Israel having gone long before) and perhaps we need to recap those kings here:

Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent.

Josiah:  A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27).

Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim is left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4

Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil, was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11-year reign.

Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king who only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.

Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11-year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)

And So? Now what this short summary does is show us the terrible state of the leadership of this special nation, a nation called to be God’s special possession and a light to the rest of the world. Moreover, where the leadership of a nation goes, the nation tends to follow, and the prophetic words from both Jeremiah and Ezekiel confirm that this was so. It was like the spiritual tide of Israel had gone out – and was staying out! Now, at the risk of being tedious, can I remind you what this series is all about: it is about our God who, confronted by our continual failures, perseveres and works to bring us through to a good place. Our problem with the Bible tends to be twofold. First it is so big we tend to be ignorant of big bits of it (ask any church group to recount the main points of Israel’s history as seen in the Old Testament and see how much we don’t know). Second, some bits of it that we do focus on (having missed the ‘hard’ bits), become so familiar that we give little thought to them. It is for this reason that I emphasise our purpose here.

The Exile? If some of the bad sides of some of the people we considered shocked us, and if the continual history of grumbling and turning away from the Lord in Israel’s history have depressed us, that should all pale into insignificance in comparison to what take place in the run up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC, the carrying away of virtually all the people to Babylon. Samaria being destroyed, and the northern kingdom being taken off was one thing, but the destruction of Jerusalem AND the Temple is something else! It is clearly the end of Israel! – or it would be if Jeremiah hadn’t already prophesied that God would bring the nation back and restore them after seventy years!   Now seventy years is a long time, an average person’s lifetime. It turns out that that seventy years would be measured from the destruction of the Temple to the completion of the rebuilding of the new Temple. God’s house. God’s presence is the measuring stick. The means of the people being returned – pagan king Cyrus being told by God to let them go – is incredible. Up until that point, if you were a survivor, you might have been sitting there in misery in Babylon wondering how anything could possibly change your circumstances. And then suddenly a royal proclamation comes from the palace to your people – get yourselves ready, you’re to go home, yes back to Canaan!!!!!

Incredible! The story is so enormous, so incredible and takes up so many pages of prophecy and history in your Bible that I am not attempting to quote any of it. Read Jeremiah, read Ezekiel, for the historical references within prophecies, read the end of 2 Chronicles for the way it is summed up, read Ezra and Nehemiah to see how the return was worked out. It is all there, pages and pages of it. In many ways it is more low-key than the Exodus but in other ways far more dramatic in the sense of the many warnings that came through the prophets, the devastating events that brought an end to Jerusalem, the years of silence that must have followed, and then the edict of a pagan king to start all over again. It is staggering, it is incredible, it is amazing. If you’ve never caught it before, catch it now. This is God changing history just by gently speaking into the heart of a pagan king. Mind blowing! This is redemption!

The Lessons? The lessons in all this are very obvious but that doesn’t make them less significant. First, see the persistence of God who through His prophets tries to hedge off this catastrophe. The sheer number, content and completeness of the many prophecies that came through Jeremiah and Ezekiel has always amazed me. Again and again the words kept coming to each of these last kings, trying to bring them to their senses. Yes, the first thing has to be the love and persistence of God that sought to prevent it all happening. Second, there has to be the folly of mankind for, let’s be honest, Israel were no greater or no worse than the rest of the world; they just came as a demonstration example under the microscope to show us folly at its best (or worst), even in the face of God’s continual love, with God talking to them all the time.  Third, there has to be seen the wisdom of God seen through what takes place. Yes, it is horrific when Jerusalem is besieged, people die, and others are taken off into captivity, but at the end of it, lo and behold, here are a holy people, a purified people who are seeking God, seeking to ensure their lives are right with God and who are free of idol worship. Jerusalem, the land, Israel, are all in a new place with God.

And to come? Yes, there is going to be silence from heaven for a number of centuries while God waits for human history to change to be ready for His Son to come and the good news to be spread around the world, but in the meantime, Israel are still there, ready to be the environment for all of those amazing events we find in the New Testament, and it will be to those we will turn in the next study, as we pursue God’s redemption of Israel.

Advertisements

18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

1 Kings 11:11-13 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

 Redemption despite failing people: I did originally consider making this a study about Solomon, but the truth is that this is about a significant event in the life of Israel and involves a number of people, none of whom come out of this very well.  And that is the point that comes through again and again in these studies – and which we need to see for our own lives – that these are stories of people who fail, people who get it wrong and yet are also people who do not put God off from His goals. I suspect the truth must be that all these things the Lord sees, right there before the foundation of the world, when the Godhead decides on the plan of salvation for the world that will involve the coming to earth of the glorious Son of God.

Yes, the truth is that God knows all these things will happen, but that does not stop Him intervening and speaking into our affairs. This is both the one and the same God who sees it all from above and outside of time, so He knows what will come, but also involves Himself in the individual affairs of mankind in time-space history. This redemption involves Him not only acting into history to save individuals and a nation but perseveres with them to get them through to a good end, an end He is always working towards – and that applies as much to your life and mine as individuals, as it does to Israel as a nation and the world at large.

The Players (1): So, let’s note each of the players in this particular episode in the life of Israel, first of all the main players and then the secondary but significant others. First we must mention the Lord who presides over all that takes place and speaks to the various individuals. Second, there is Solomon, a man who started out with wisdom, was given more wisdom and became the richest and most powerful man on the earth. Tragically he gradually drifted away from the Lord as he took on new foreign wife after new foreign wife, each one who came with their own pagan religion, which eventually permeated the royal household and Solomon himself so that, eventually, the Lord speaks the words of the verse above which decrees what will follow. Now it is always important to understand that the Lord does not MAKE people do sinful acts, but He does a) step back and lift off His hand of protection and b) allow Satan to provoke the hearts of sin that are always there.

The Players (2): The third ‘player’ in this drama is Hadad the Edomite, a child refugee from an earlier time (see 1 Kings 11:14-18) who entered the Egyptian royal family (v.19,20) and who, when he hears David has died, returns to Israel and is counted as “an adversary” to Solomon, an instrument of disciplinary correction. The fourth player, another “adversary” is Rezin, another thorn in Solomon’s side (v.23-25). These two are not major players but they help create an atmosphere of uncertainty and upheaval in the final years of Solomon. Fifth, a more significant player is Jeroboam (v.25 on) who receives a word from Ahijah the prophet, who spells out Israel’s failure in becoming idol worshippers, and very clearly declares what will happen in line with our starter verses (see v.31-39).  After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam comes back from exile and challenges the heir to the throne, the sixth player, Rehoboam who is very unwise in his initial dealing with the challenge and causes the division (see 12:1-24) so that Jeroboam becomes king over the ten northern tribes.

But why?  The obvious assessment of what took place in the dividing of the kingdom is simply judgment on Solomon and Israel at large, but why divide the kingdom in this way? There are two preliminary answers, but they are only preliminary. The first one is to remove the control of the land from the family of Solomon, Solomon having shown such disregard for the Lord, despite his earlier wisdom, because so often bad example is projected into the next generation. The second one is an act of grace – to leave Jerusalem and two tribes in the hands of the ongoing family of David. David had shown such an example that perhaps that would impact future kings. The truth is that of the kings of the north, none of them put right the matter of idolatry which Jeroboam instigated (see 1 Kings 12:25-33) and none of them could be considered a ‘good’ king. On the other hand, the kings of the south turned out to be a mixed bunch. Both kingdoms were eventually overrun by invaders, so the kingdom ceased, Israel in the north in 722BC to the Assyrians, and Judah in the south in 586/7 to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus followed the Exile which we will consider in more detail in the next study.

Again, but why? Although the above two reasons are obvious, having been described in the words of the Lord in the earlier prophecies to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13) and to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39), they nevertheless still do not explain the Lord’s reasoning. We can but speculate. First, what follows is the breaking up of what had been a great, prosperous and powerful kingdom. It is first of all a humbling experience and second, a bringing to an end of that experience. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away!  Third, it separates off Jerusalem from the larger part of the ungodly and idol-worshipping nation, perhaps in an endeavour to keep it holy with its Temple. Fourth, the cutting down to size of this once great and powerful nation will be seen by the surrounding nations and they will hear that this is a disciplinary act of Almighty God. God is not to be trifled with. A light to the nations? Well in that they convey truth about holiness, righteousness and accountability, yes. Fifth, it is a way to ensure that the nation has a double chance of surviving and remaining in God’s purposes for the earth. Sixth, it will be a lesson, conveyed down through the years to God’s people that they are accountable to Him and that He will act against them if that becomes necessary.  Seventh, it is a sign of God’s grace that He does not completely disown them and start again with some other nation!

In the big picture: Looking at the whole history of Israel, we will see that despite all this, first the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom simply fail to live up to being God’s people and revert to idol worship. As we’ve already noted, both kingdoms will eventually be brought to an end because of their ongoing folly and intransigence. Yet, nevertheless, despite all this, there will still remain an identifiable people, descended from Abraham who will still be recognized on the earth as “God’s people” and who will create a right environment into which the Son of God will eventually come. It is all part of the ongoing picture of redemption of Israel, a picture that reveals the ongoing sin of Israel and the ongoing grace of God. There are certain unwise crusading atheists who rant about what a terrible God we have. These accounts show how foolish that assessment is.

17. Redeeming Israel – the Judges

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 17. Redeeming Israel – the Judges

Jud 2:15,16 They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders

 Redemption and Israel: The thrust of these studies, I hope you will have seen, is that redemption is not only about the initial event but also the Lord’s ongoing activity to ensure we run the full course. Nowhere is that clearer in the Bible than in the story of Israel. It is not a mere account of a special nation, it is a story of redemption – ongoing redemption, redemption at the hands of a God who is determined to help His faithful people survive, and therein was the problem – so often, so many of them were not faithful and in that they simply reflect the human race as a whole.

The Ongoing Story: Yesterday we finished in Judges 2. Let’s examine verses 10-14: and there we see time moving on:

  • After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, (v.10a) i.e. times moves on
  • another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” (v.10b) i.e. a sign of poor teaching, not passing on the faith
  • Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” (v.11) General statement
  • They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (v.12a) Detail of their folly
  • They aroused the Lord’s anger,” (v.12b) – the effect, “because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (v.13) contrary to all Moses’ teaching.
  • In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.” (v.14) God’s form of disciplinary judgment to bring them to their senses by lifting off His hand of protection so they were attacked by pagan neighbours.

The Cycle: Then comes what we see happening again and again in Judges: They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders (v.15,16) Whenever the people came to their senses, the Lord sent deliverers. The summary verses that follow spell it out so clearly:

  • “Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.” (v.17)
  • Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.(18)
  • But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” (v.19)

Overview of Judges: The book of Judges is essentially a record of how this happened again and again and each of the named judges was someone raised up by the Lord to deliver Israel when they cried out under the present disciplining following their yet again turning away from the Lord:

  • Othniel (3:7-11)
  • Ehud (3:12-30)
  • Shamgar (v.31 – no mention of the cycle).
  • Deborah & Barak (4:1-24 – a longer story + a song of triumph to follow)
  • Gideon (6:1 – 8:35 – note the stories get longer)
  • (a period of internal strife – Ch.9)
  • Jephthah (10:6 – 12:7)
  • Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (12:8-15 three judges in uneventful time)
  • Samson (13:1-16:31)
  • Unsettled times (ch.17-21)

Key Points: Again and again throughout these accounts we see the cycle rolls out starting with, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”  For the expression ‘did evil’ see 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1 i.e. seven times this condemnation comes. Again and again, to bring discipline on Israel, the Lord lifted off His hand of protection and allowed the neighbours to attack Israel: Moab, Ammonites and Amalekites (3:12,13), Canaan (4:2), Midian (6:1), Philistines and the Ammonites (10:7), Philistines (13:1). The deliverers the Lord used we have listed above. What should also be noted of these deliverers is that they were not always the godliest of people, indeed far from it sometimes. The truth is that the Lord used whoever (presumably) He saw would respond and become a deliverer.

With some, the motivation was clearly to deliver Israel and yet that motivation was not always clear, for Gideon was certainly a reluctant deliverer and Samson was a carnal deliverer concerned more for his own pleasure, so deliverance was almost an accident! Yet clearly the Lord knew all these shortcomings but also knew the individual in question could achieve the deliverance that was required.

The closing chapters of the book show what a confusing and unsettled time this was in this embryonic nation. Although these judges were mostly warriors of some kind or another, with one exception (a woman) there was virtually no prophetic input at this time which suggests, what we have been considering so far, that their state of almost universal rebellion prevented such a thing, yet Deborah shows that it was not impossible.

Reflections on Redemption: We have observed in the previous studies how the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt, how He persevered with them through their desert travels to Sinai, how He dealt with them at Sinai, how He persevered with them on their travels to the border of the Promised Land and how He dealt with them when they refused to enter that land. It was one long struggle to keep Israel on the right track and involved a number of disciplinary judgments along the way. We may wonder why the Lord tolerated this and didn’t wipe them out. I suggest, because the story, which has continued on so clearly in Judges, shows two things:  a) the sinfulness of mankind even when God is there to help, and revealing a need of a redeemer, and b) the incredible grace of God which persevere and perseveres, in the face of that ongoing sinfulness, to work to discipline, correct but preserve the nation.  But it doesn’t end there, the rest of the Old Testament follows with a similar picture which we’ll see in the next two studies.

Lessons for Us?  I find the book of Judges tends to have a depressing effect upon me because it is such a catalogue of failures, if not by the nation, by individuals. And yet, there must be this massive lesson that screams out from it: if Israel could go through this long period of continual failure despite all the Lord’s efforts to get them back on track and then deliver them, and He keeps on with them and doesn’t reject them, there is hope for you and me when we get it wrong. This must be the message that keeps coming through. God is there to redeem us – and go on redeeming us! Our failures will not put Him off. Having saved you, you can be assured that He will be there on your case, constantly working to deliver you. Rejoice in that – and purposefully join in with it!

16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring 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.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

15. Redeeming Israel – the Exodus

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.

44. Redeeming the Firstborn

Meditations in Exodus: 44. Redeeming the Firstborn

Ex 13:1,2   The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”

We come to yet another passage that may seem strange to us but which contains great significance. We will be considering verses 1 to 16 which is divided as follows:

v.1,2  Consecration instructions for the firstborn

v.3-10 Reiterating the instructions to celebrate the feast

v.11-13 Instructions to redeem the firstborn

v.14-16 Explanation for future generations

So the first and third parts: the Lord’s first instruction is to, Consecrate to me every firstborn male.” (v.2) To consecrate means to set aside as holy. We immediately remember that we are talking about a group of people (and animals) here who were spared when the destroying angel passed over the land. It was only the firstborn males in every Egyptian home who died and these eldest sons in the Hebrew families are to be considered as special, the ‘spared ones’.

To emphasise their special-ness and act as a reminder in the future, they are to ‘redeem’ or buy back from God these first-born sons of every future generation: “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 forefathers, 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. Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.” (v.11-13)

The instruction is specific about place and time – when they are in Canaan in the future. The extent of the redemption is stated – to include flocks as well as sons. Failure to redeem the beast means its destruction. This law is repeated in Ex 34:20 and in Numbers the amount of the redemption money is set: When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.” (Num 18:16)

Perhaps we would do well to turn to the last part next, the explanation for this law. 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. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 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.” (v.14-16) The redemption act was to be part of the overall feast – Passover and Unleavened Bread, and naturally children would ask why their father was doing it and he would tell them what had happened and how God had destroyed every first-born Egyptian but spared every first-born Hebrew who were then considered to be His. To figuratively get them back from God, the father then paid each year this redemption fee as a constant reminder of what God had done and who they now were.

All of this was to be integral in the details of the Feast, hence the instructions of verses 3 to 10 coming between the instructions to consecrate and the instruction to redeem. It comes as instruction from Moses to his people to commemorate this day every year as a reminder of this deliverance (v.3,4) and they are to do it every year once they are in the Promised Land (v.5).  It is to be a seven-day feast where there is to be no yeast in their bread (v.6,7) and they are to tell their children it is a reminder of what the Lord did for them (v.8). Although the Jews took this instruction literally the word ‘like’ indicates the sense or purpose of what they were doing – a constant reminder ever year (v.9,10)

The strong injunctions to remember each and every year at this same time what had happened is an acknowledgment by the Lord that human beings have a tendency to forget. The picture language in all that we have been considering declares the truth to future generations in ways that are easily explained. The focus was put on the firstborn son – to be consecrated, given over to God, and acknowledged that he belonged to God, and then redeemed so he could be bought back by the family to be an ongoing part of their family life – and focused the mind on the reality that he only lived by the mercy of God who spared him in the destruction of that night in Egypt. The fact that future generations had to do it was a declaration or reminder that they too only lived by the mercy of God, they only existed as a unique people because God had redeemed them from Egypt (Ex 6:6). That was how significant the Passover was.

Now we have already applied all this into the New Testament and the death of God’s lamb, Jesus Christ. When we ‘come to Christ’ we so often say we surrender our lives to God for Him to be our Lord as well as our Saviour (He cannot save us unless we let Him be Lord) but what we are doing there is consecrating ourselves, or giving ourselves over to God so that we belong to Him. However, there is no ‘buying us back’ from Him as the Israelites did, we are His full stop. Indeed, we are adopted into His family and because His Holy Spirit indwells us, we are one with Him, and this applies not merely to first-born sons but every person who becomes a child of God, men, women and children. For us, our reminder is not once a year but every time we celebrate ‘the Lord’s Supper’ or ‘Communion’, being reminded of the wonder that is the Son of God dying for us as God’s lamb who took away our sin. Hallelujah!