Exodus Ch32-34

Week 11 / Exodus 32-34


There is something deeply disturbing about the situation that unfolds in these chapters.  The tragedy of the scene as the LORD in his glory is revealed on Sinai (Ex.19:16-20), whilst in the shadow of that glory, the people give their worship to a cast idol of their own making.  You could almost think it impossible for this to happen… until we reflect on our own spiritual experience.  Idolatry is part of the fallen sinful condition (Rom.1:18-23), and evokes God’s wrath today every bit as much as it did under Sinai.  And insofar as we continue to be shaped by our sin even after we are redeemed, our tendency to revert to that idolatry is an ever present danger (32:22, I Kings 12:25ff).


Redeemed people are very spiritually complex.  More often than not, the dynamics of our worship remain shaped by a mix of truth and error co-existing alongside each other.  Our vision of God is informed in part by His revelation of Himself in Christ, and in part by our own assumptions, desires, cultural prejudices and folly.  Much of our growth in discipleship and worship consists in eradicating error, and bringing our worship in line with a vision of God that corresponds as fully as possible with the reality of God as He has revealed Himself to be in Christ.  This is why we need the truth of Christ held out to us constantly from the Spirit-inspired Scriptures.  Then we can be checking and re-checking, clarifying and correcting our vision of the Lord, and ensuring that He is who we think He is. 


Remembering that Moses is playing the part of Christ (and not us!), we are confronted with this truth in our passage.  In the absence of the Mediator, our hearts naturally revert back to idolatry.  Unless truth is relentlessly held before our eyes, our hearts and minds slip inexorably back towards error.  Hence thecal of Hebrews to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith…’ (12:2)


But, we are ‘stiff-necked’ (Ex.32:9).  This is a singularly appropriate image, referring to the unwillingness of a yoked animal, such as an ox (calf?), to turn in the direction the ploughman desires.  Pulling against the plougher’s wishes, the animal stubbornly sticks to its own course, resisting the tug of the reins.  This is exactly what is happening here in Ex.32.  Since the (Angel of the) LORD met with Moses at the (non-)burning bush, the intention of the Exodus has been for the LORD to redeem a people for Himself who would worship Him (3:12).  The incident with the Golden Calf is the complete subversion of all the LORD has desired.  It undermines the whole Exodus at its most foundational level.  Idolatry in the Church today (holding a vision of G/god that doesn’t fully correspond with the reality of who He is) similarly subverts the desire of God for His people at its most foundational level (John 4:23).   Our vision of God – and how far that aligns to his revelation of Himself in Jesus – remains the single most important thing about us.


32:1Why do you think that the people want an idol to worship?  Why do they ask for ‘gods’, and not just a ‘god’?  Why is Moses’ absence such an issue for Israel?  If it was going to cause such a problem, why does the LORD keep Moses on Sinai for so long?  Are we vulnerable to the same concerns?






32:2-6How should Aaron have responded to the people’s request?  Why do you think he responds in the way that he does?  How far is Aaron a victim in this situation, and how far is he responsible for it?  What can we infer about the nature of spiritual leadership from this encounter? 






Do you think Aaron thought he was creating a new god, or simply making a representation of Yahweh?  Why does Aaron make a calf?   And why does he build an altar in front of it?






32:9-10How does the Lord’s response underline the seriousness with which He takes idolatry?  Why is it such a severe problem?  What do we learn about the LORD from His response?  Is His anger justified?  Why / why not? 






32:10What is the significance of the LORD’s offer to Moses, to ‘make you a great nation’?  Is Moses right to refuse the LORD?





32:11-14What do we learn about the art of Intercession from the plea of Moses?  Remembering that Moses points us primarily to Christ as Mediator (rather than functioning as an example of our own individual spiritual experience), what do we learn about Christ’s intercessory ministry (Heb.7:25)?





32:14Do you think God changes His mind in response to Moses’ prayer?





32:19-20Having been instrumental in the LORD’s relenting, why does Moses now become angry himself when he returns to the camp?  Why does he make Israel drink the crushed idol?  (does Num.5:11-31 help?)




32:21-24   Look at Aaron’s response when he is confronted by Moses.  What do we learn about the nature of sin, and our relationship with our sin, from what we see in his explanation?





32:25How does the sin of Israel affect their evangelistic outreach?  Can you think of places in the Bible where pure worship is seen as having profound evangelistic impact?  Why is there this link?  How would you explain it?





32:26-29What do you make of the incident with the Levites?  Remarkably, this is the reason they are set apart to serve as priests in the Tabernacle (v.29).  What do you think is the connection?  Why do only 3,000 people die?  Do you think this has any relationship with the Day of Pentecost, when about 3,000 are saved (Acts 2:41)?



32:30-35Moses so deeply understands his role as Mediator (playing the part of Christ) that he knows that in order to make atonement for the people, h/He must be blotted out of the book of life.  Why does the LORD now reject Moses’ intercession, having accepted it previously (in 32:11-14)?





How would you help someone in the 21st Century to identify their idols?





If you applied that process to yourself, what would you discover your own idols to be?  Based on this passage, how would you respond before God?






Concluding thoughts

Exodus 32-34 might be some of the deepest chapters in the entire Bible, and will by God’s grace, extravagantly reward careful study and meditation.  There are fewer places in Scripture where the role of the Mediator is more carefully explored, and where we can therefore ground our hope in the person and work of Christ.  It is here that we learn that Christ is one with the Father (which is why Moses is satisfied with His Presence after initially asking to see the Father’s glory).  And remember - when you read Exodus, Moses plays the part of Christ (though that part will soon be taken over by Joshua – the clue is in the name, Ex.33:11).  It is Christ who will be blotted out of the Book of Life to make atonement for His people; it is Christ who is the Presence of God who will dwell with His people, and distinguish them from all others, during their pilgrimage; it is Christ who speaks with and sees the Father face-to-face, and dwells in His presence; it is Christ who brings the radiance of His glory to the Church; it is Christ who reveals to us the will and character of the Father; Christ who identifies with His people and intercedes on their behalf; it is Christ with whom the Father makes His covenant.  And of course, He is the cleft in the Rock in whom we hide that we might be sustained under the weight of God’s glory.  Behold your Saviour (II Cor.3:12-4:6).  Truly there is great wisdom in john’s closing exhortation: ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols’ (I Jn.5:21).  Christ is your LORD, worship only Him.


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Exodus Ch25-31

Week 10 / 25-31


When Moses came down from Sinai, he had the 10 commandments, and the blueprint for the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle?  It’s obviously important, but at first glance it can be hard to see why.  Ex.25-31 is a fairly detailed list of how it was to be built, and Ex.35-40 is a fairly detailed account of how the Israelites followed Ex.25-31 to the letter.  It is important enough for the Holy Spirit to take a very personal interest in making sure it was built properly (31:1-11), and for a whole other book in the Bible to be devoted to what would happen in the Tabernacle (Leviticus, in case you’re wondering.  There is a series of sermons I preached on the book of Leviticus on the website).  And when the Tabernacle is built, it receives a fairly hefty seal of approval from the LORD (40:34-38).  In all, the story of the construction of the Tabernacle take up over a third of the book of Exodus.  And once you’re clued into it, you’ll notice just how often the rest of the Bible refers back to the Tabernacle.  Like I said: it’s obviously important.  But why?


To understand the Tabernacle is to learn the way the Bible (and so the Holy Spirit) wants us to learn.  It is a huge interactive, multi-sensory, fully engaging ultimate All Age aid to understanding everything that is important about the world.  In fact, that is the best way to think about the Tabernacle – as a schematic plan of creation (Heb.8:5).  Let me say at the outset – it is much easier to see what’s going on if you have a picture / model of the Tabernacle in front of you.  So here is one:












Why is it important to understand the way Creation works?  There are so many answers to this question, but the most immediately and personally relevant answer will focus on how we see our place in that creation.  Herein lies some of the deepest questions we wrestle with as people.  Why am I here?  What does it mean to live a ‘good’ life?  How do I live?  Who is God and how do I relate to Him (if at all)?  Where did we come from and where are we going… and how do we get there?  The whole question of what this world is all about settles many of our smaller questions about our place in it!


How much of creation do you think we actually know about?  How much of that do we understand?  Does that make you feel insignificant?





25:1-8.  Where do the Israelites get all these resources from?

(in today’s currency, the total cost of just the silver and gold would be in excess of £40 million, making this proportionally one of the most expensive buildings ever built, and certainly one of the great wonders of the ancient world)





The first things made are the 3 items of furniture: the Ark, the Table and the Lampstand (25:10-40).  What do you think these are designed to teach us about?  Can you think of any other passages of Scripture where these are referred to?  Do they help you identify what (Who?) they represent?

(see e.g. I Samuel 4:4; Ps.99:1; Is.37:16; Ex.33:14-15; Dt.4:37; Zech.4:2-6; Rev.1:12 etc.)





How do you think the LORD would make His presence manifest in His appearing between the Cherubim (Ex.25:22)?  What is He teaching us about Himself by appearing here, and not somewhere else in the Tabernacle?






The main tent is first of all built as a single room, that is then divided by a curtain (26:31-33) into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (which is a cube, see also Rev.21:16; also Heb.9:11-12)).  What do you think this teaches us?  Why is this curtain torn when Jesus dies? (Mt.27:51, note the Temple is simply a permanent version of the more portable Tabernacle).  What then do you think these two rooms represent?





Why is the Ark hidden in the Most Holy Place, while the Table and the Lampstand are in the Holy Place?  How does the Altar of Incense fit into the picture (Rev.8:4)?  How does this change your view of prayer and worship?





Do you think priests should still wear distinctive clothing (i.e. ‘sacred garments, Ex.28:2)?  Who are today’s priests?  Why is there a priesthood established within the life of Israel, when the whole nation is a kingdom of priests (Ex.19:6)?  How does this affect your understanding of Church life today (if at all)?









Why does having bells on the hem of the High Priest’s garment keep him alive when he enters the Day of Atonement (28:34-35)




How does this vision of creation shape how you think

of yourself and your place in the world?





What does Ex.40:34-38 teach us about

the destiny of this creation

(see e.g. Hab.2:14)?



Do you think the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the craftsmanship of Bezalel and Oholiab has anything to say about the creative arts today?




Do you think it would be helpful to teach more about the Tabernacle in today’s Church?  If it is the Bible’s way of teaching the Bible, should it feature in our ‘Introduction to Christianity’ courses?




Concluding thoughts:


SPOILERS: Don’t read until you’ve worked through the questions!


To begin with, this can feel a bit tricky, and a lot of this I had to be taught – so please don’t think I was able to work it out on my own!  Here are some suggested answers to some of the questions above.  Once you get going, it does begin to fall into place.  The three pieces of furniture that are made first, teach us deep truths about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father is always seen in the Scriptures to be in heaven (The Most Holy Place).[1]  Although heaven and earth were initially created to ‘interface’ (in Eden), humanity’s sin resulted in their exile and the establishing of a barrier between heaven and earth. And it is through the Son and the Holy Spirit that God ministers to the Church (the Holy Place).  The Courtyard and beyond is the rest of fallen creation, from which we come, via sacrifice and cleansing into the life of the Church; and the Church finds access to the life of the Father through the death of the Son.  I’ll leave you to download my sermon on Leviticus 16 to see how the ministry of the High Priest pre-figures the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ!


I know this can seem slightly obscure to begin with, but think about it like this.  When Jesus dies on the cross, we are simply told the Curtain in the Temple was torn in two.  There is no explanation given as to why that is significant.  That is because Matthew assumes you understand the Tabernacle.  Again and again you find Jesus spoken of as a Atoning Sacrifice; the Anointed One (i.e. Christ); our Priest & High Priest; entering the Most Holy Place, etc…  and the assumption of Jesus and the Apostles is that you know what this kind of language means.  The Tabernacle, and all that goes on within it, is a key visual aid to show us what Jesus would do and how…


[1] There is one exception to this rule.  In Deuteronomy 4, Moses teaches us that it was the Father who descended in glory to Mount Sinai (see v.12, where no form is seen)This observation lead many theologians from previous generations to conclude that anytime we see the LORD in the OT, we were being confronted by the pre-incarnate Christ.   

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Exodus Ch21-24

Week 9 / Exodus 21-24


It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal.5:1).  What is freedom?  How did ancient Church understand ‘freedom’ in the light of the lists of commandments delivered in passages such as Ex.21-23.  For our culture ‘freedom’ is the absence of restraint - the ‘freedom’ to define ourselves as we like.  But if, as Christians, we think of freedom like this we’ll struggle to make sense of the Scriptures, where a much deeper vision of freedom is held out to us.  Jesus teaches that our throwing off the restraint of God is in fact slavery – the antithesis of freedom.  ‘Everyone who sins is a slave to sin’ (Jn.8:34, see similar comments from Paul in Rom.6:16-23).  Freedom is not to be thought of in terms of our independence from God and our ‘freedom’ to choose how we will live.  True freedom is precisely the opposite.  We are only free when we are restrained by God, and so live without sin.  True freedom is true Christlikeness.


This recalibration of our vision of freedom has far-reaching and often subversive consequences.  To take just one example, we often think that the LORD, in order to maintain the authenticity of our freedom to love Him with integrity, had to allow for the possibility of our rejection of Him.  The opportunity to reject God for sin (should we wish to) constitutes our ‘freedom’.  But in the light of Jesus’ & the Apostle’s teaching, we see that this is not a liberating grasp for freedom, but a terrifying decent into slavery – the tragic surrendering of freedom.  Adam & Eve were almost free, but not quite.  They had a single opportunity to squander that freedom, which they took. 


Only Christ has lived in total freedom.  And only in our union with Christ can we know that freedom.  As the Holy Spirit rebuilds in us the image of Christ we find an ability to live in a way shaped by the royal Law (Jas.2:8).  If Israel could have kept the Law they too would have been freed.  But as we saw last week, the corruption of humanity subverts the Law that is good, and uses it as an occasion to violate God’s vision for life.  The great tragedy of Exodus is that rather than allowing the Law to drive them to their Messiah, they sought instead to establish their own righteousness by keeping the Law themselves (Rom.10:1-4).  The Law was not something that threatened their freedom, as if the LORD was substituting one tyrannical regime for another in their redemption.  Rather He was offering a vision of true freedom, life and rest.  This is the lens through which we should read Ch.20-23.  It is the unpacking of what it means to love the LORD our God … and our neighbour as ourselves.  It is the vision of life that emanates out from and reflects the life of God Himself.  It is a life we strive for now, but which we will only enjoy fully in the righteousness of the New Creation, where there is no sin and no possibility of sin.  That is not the surrendering of freedom, it is our inheriting of it.  For there we shall be truly like Christ.  Hence Paul’s triumphant declaration: ‘Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses’ (Acts 13:39).

Last time, we were asking the question about which, if any of the 10 Commandments we thought Christians should still be expected to keep.   What did you answer?  What about the laws of Ex.21-23?  Are they still applicable?  Is your answer different to the similar questions about keeping the 10 Commandments?  If so, why? 






Bible scholars sometimes suggest that there are 3 parts to the ancient Law of Moses: Civil (the legislation of the nation, e.g. 21:2-11); Religious (worship in the Tabernacle e.g. 23:14-19) and Moral (how we live as people e.g. 23:1-8).  Such scholars maintain that ‘moral’ laws are applicable to all, whenever and wherever they live; that the Religious laws are fulfilled in Christ, and no longer applicable to the Church, and the Civil Laws are redundant as the Church is no longer tied to the life of one nation.  Do you agree with this analysis?  Are there passages in the Bible which would confirm / deny these ideas?







The OT is often called immoral on the basis of certain aspects of the Law of Moses.  Passages such as Ex.21:20 (see also e.g. 23:12; Lev.25:44-46 etc.), carrying as it does the sense that it condones slavery raise such questions.  How would you answer someone who said they couldn’t believe the Bible was the word of God because it legislated for slavery?  How do you make sense of these kinds of passages yourself?  What would you say to someone who justified slavery on the basis of the Mosaic Law?






…and how do you reconcile passages that legislate for slavery, with passages like 21:16, which clearly condemns enslavement?






Do you think that the Law given through Moses should be used to shape the legislative life of a nation – or to put it another way: should the Laws in the Bible (such as 21:12-14) be used as Laws of e.g. the UK?  What about Laws such as the one in 22:20?  If you have different answers, why?






How has living in a secular culture shaped your thinking about the role of the law of the land, and the areas of our national life that should be affected by that law?  Do you think a secularised vision for the law of the land is better than a religious one?  How would your answer change (if at all) depending on which religion informed the law-makers (Islam?  Hinduism? Christianity?)






Why is attacking (21:15), or even cursing (21:17) your father or mother a capital offense?  How would this influence your reading of passages such as Rom.1:30 (‘they disobey their parents’)?  How does how we relate to parents (and teach children how to relate to parents) shape how we relate to God?





Why does Jesus feel He is at liberty to set aside / redefine laws such as ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth…’ (see: Matt.5:38-41, though also Matt.5:17)?  How does Jesus doing this affect how we interpret the Law of Moses? 





How are the three annual festivals of 23:14-19 fulfilled in and by Christ?  Why do you think these three are singled out as ones which require a national assemblage?




Read Ex.23:21 carefully.  What do you make of the fact that the Angel who bears God’s Name will not forgive rebellion?  How does that fit with the vision of God who also institutes the Tabernacle in the next chapters of Exodus, precisely to provide atonement and therefore forgiveness?  How does this affect your own thinking of God?






Ex.23:23 & 27-33.  How can we worship a God who instigates genocide in order to provide His own people with a land to live in?






Ex.23:25-26.  How can we make sense of promises like this in the Church today, when clearly Christians do get sick, and miscarry, and suffer from poverty and famine, and die young?  How would you respond to someone who argued on the basis of verse like these that Christians shouldn’t get ill, or suffer, but should in fact live lives of health, wealth and prosperity? 






Concluding thoughts

The Apostle Paul sees a great (but not total) continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and the experience of the Church living in each.  We often think of (and perhaps overplay?) the discontinuity, but don’t let that cause you to lose sight of where things remain the same.  To take just one example, Romans sees the OT as proclaiming the righteousness that is by faith (Rom.10:6-9), through trust in Christ (Rom.10:11 & 13); and sees the Israelites of Isaiah’s day having the opportunity to respond to the ‘good news’ i.e. the Gospel (10:16).  By contrast we often still hear people talk as if in the OT salvation came through obeying the Law, and in the NT it comes through faith in Christ.  This is clearly an area we need to navigate with great care, guided by the Bible itself.  But one of the greatest lines of continuity is that the Law itself teaches that salvation comes through faith in Christ, and is designed to drive us to Christ.  Only when we have been united to Christ, can we begin to live like Him.

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Exodus Ch19-20

Week 8 / Exodus 19-20


Our focus in these chapters naturally lingers on Sinai itself.  The high drama and the intensity of all that is going on as the (Angel of) the LORD brings the ancient Church to hear the Father speak from heaven (Dt.4:11-12 & 36; Neh.9:13), can easily eclipse all else.  But tucked away at the end of Ch.20 is a short post script to the giving of the Law.  Out of the blazing, consuming fire, the black clouds and deep darkness (Dt.4:11 & 24, see also e.g. Ps.18:7-11) the LORD spoke…directly…without a Mediator (notice the impact this has on the people, Ex.20:19), and commanded them to build an altar.  Few moments in the OT speak more profoundly of the tender mercy of the Father-heart of God.  How well He knows His people.  Only a few moments ago the Church declared: ‘We will do everything the LORD has said’ (19:8, and again 24:7).  But the LORD knows their naiveté.  In the words of a much later archbishop of Canterbury: ‘You have not yet considered how great is the weight of sin’ (Anselm c.1063).  But the LORD has, and makes provision.  No sooner have the Ten Commandments been spoken, than the means of restitution is devised for those who transgress them.  There is a tragic inevitability.


Indeed, transgression is precisely what the Law is designed to provoke.  We often think the LORD gives the Law as a means of restraining sin.  But Paul – writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God (I Cor.2:10-12) – teaches us that grace runs in precisely the opposite direction.  ‘The Law was added so that the trespass might increase’ (Rom.5:20).  This is not some abstract theological principle.  Paul sees this dynamic at work in his own experience: ‘I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me and through the commandment put me to death’ (Rom.7:10-11).  That is what happens when sinful humanity comes into contact with the commandment that is ‘holy, righteous and good’ (7:12).   Sin is aggravated by the Law and finds new ways to articulate itself.


This all seems counter-intuitive.  Why would the LORD create a situation that aggravates our sin, and draws forth a new multitude of transgressions?  After all, the more commandments, the more ways to break those commandments.  Paul’s answer seems to be: to magnify grace (Rom.5:20).  If the cross had happened in Gen.3, it would have overcome a single transgression.  But if it happens after the fullness of the Law has been decreed, and after the generations of accumulated transgression, and still is sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world (I Jn.2:2), then grace is far more profound than we could ever otherwise have envisaged.  The altar is not incidental to the Law (given in case some of us might break the Law), it is rather integral to the Law (given because we all will break it).  Such is the way of the God of grace.  The illusion of legalism is shattered, for we cannot obey the Law.  If we want a righteousness, we’ll have to look for it elsewhere (Phil.3:9).  And that is precisely the point!

Much of our speaking about the Trinity use one set of their titles (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  Can you think of other titles that are given to the Divine Persons?  What do those titles teach us about Them?  How does this affect your vision of God?





Why does the LORD choose one nation out of all the nations of the earth to be His treasured possession (19:5)?  Why does this status depend on their obeying the LORD fully?  Do you think being treasured by the LORD is still dependent on obedience?





What does being a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation entail (19:6)?  What role does this mean Israel will have in relation to other nations?   






Why does Peter continue to use this kind of language about the Church in the New Testament (I Pet.2:9)?   What does this suggest about the continuity between the Old and New Testament people of God – i.e. in what way is our experience of and relationship with God the same as those in Exodus?





Do you think the elders are naïve in their response to the LORD in 19:8?  Why do you think they are so confident they will be able to do ‘everything the LORD has said’?





Why does the LORD’s coming in a ‘dense cloud’, and the people hearing Him speak to Moses mean they will always put their trust in Moses (19:9)?  Do you think the people do put their trust in Moses after Sinai?  If so, in what way?



The LORD has been with the people in the fiery cloudy pillar since they left Succouth (Ex.13:21).  The people have enjoyed His presence throughout their journey so far (see e.g. 17:5-6; 18:12).  Why do the people need to consecrate themselves now they are to be in the presence of the LORD at Sinai?  Why are there limits put round the mountain, and why is it a capital crime to cross those limits (19:12-13 & 23)?  And why did the people have to wait until the third day? …and abstain from sexual relations?





What is the significance of the ram’s horn (19:13)?  Can you think of other situations in the Bible where we hear the ram’s horn being blown?  Why is it blown on these occasions? 





Hebrews 12:18-24 contrasts our experience of Church with that of ancient Israel at Sinai (Ex.19:16-19).  What do you think is the point of that contrast?  Do you think that this vision of the LORD at Sinai has any enduring relevance to the Church today?  If so, what is it?  What does this contrast suggest about discontinuity between the Church in the Old Testament and in the New – i.e. in what way is our experience of and relationship with God the same…  what is new about the New Covenant?






Do you think that Christians still need to keep any or all of the 10 Commandments today?  Why / why not?





…what about people who aren’t Christians?  Do you think God expects them to keep the 10 Commandments?  Should the 10 Commandments be used to guide the moral (or legal) life of a nation?




How does the first and second commandments address atheism, secularism, agnosticism and idolatry?  What are the implications for people who are not Christians? 




Is jealousy a virtue (10:5)?  How can it be just for God to punish the children for the sin of the fathers?  What does this mean?  Why has God seemingly changed His mind by Ezek.18:14-18?





Preachers of an older generation taught that before you preached the Gospel you should preach the Law.  What do you think they meant by that?  Do you agree with them? 




What would you say to someone who said they’ve kept the 10 Commandments?





Concluding thoughts


One of the most misleading ways of reading the Old Testament is with the reductionist assumption that somehow God isn’t revealing Himself as Trinity.  This re-writing of history is as fanciful as it is devastating, and often articulates itself as the idea that in the OT, God (the Father?) reveals Himself to be a kind of unitarian ‘one God’, a monotheistic being such as we might see in Islam, but then in the NT the Son and the Holy Spirit are introduced, causing deep confusion for the Church that is only resolved in the Council of Nicaea in 325AD (when the Creed was written, articulating the doctrine of the Trinity as we continue to confess it today).  A plain reading of the OT exposes the myth.  There are simply too many ‘Lords’.  To try to reduce everything to one mono-god simply renders hopeless confusion, and frequent appeals to ‘mystery’ as texts become nonsensical.  There are a number of key moments in Exodus where at least two Lord’s – who relate to Moses or Israel in markedly different ways – are in the picture.  One such time is in the chapters we have before us this week, where the LORD leads them to Sinai to meet the LORD, but others include 33:7-23; 35:30f. etc.

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Exodus Ch16-18

Week 7 / Exodus 16-18


In the third century B.C., there was a popular Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, which was kind of like the ‘NIV’ of its day.  There are some strong arguments to suggest that this was the translation the Apostles used when teaching Christians who had converted from Gentile backgrounds (and possibly those from international Jewish communities).  Anyway, the point is that in the Septuagint the Greek word that is used for ‘Church’ in the New Testament (ekklesia) is first used to describe the group of people who left Egypt in the Exodus.  In many English translations this is obscured, and the phrase is rendered somewhat strangely as ‘Israelite community’; the ‘company of Israel’; or slightly more helpfully, some form of ‘the congregation of Israel’.


What we have witnessed then, in the last few chapters of Exodus, is the birth of the Church.  We have moved beyond a family (of Abraham) chosen by the LORD, to an international people who have been redeemed by that same LORD through the death of the Passover Lamb.  Perhaps somewhat tellingly, the first thing the Church does after the worship of Chapter 15, is ‘grumble’ (15:24; 16:2; with a variation on the theme in 17:2…).  Grumbling is so commonplace in our world that we may barely notice that this is quickly becoming a defining characteristic of Israel in Exodus.  Indeed we may feel a certain empathy, and conclude that they were justified in their behaviour – after all they had just been hauled out into the middle of the wilderness, with only the food they could carry.  But that would be to dramatically miss the point.


They had just been redeemed from slavery and death, from tyranny and oppression (6:6).  The Angel of the LORD had pledged Himself to adopt them as His own people, thus taking on the responsibility to provide for them (6:7) and to bring them safely to the ‘promised land’ (6:8).  For the first time, they were free.  Against this background, their complaining, quarrelling and grumbling take on a more sinister dynamic.  It is symptomatic of ingratitude and an ingrained cynicism, as they cast aspersions about the LORD’s motives, and willingness / ability to provide, calling into question even His presence with them (17:7).  In the light of everything they had lived through, literally in the last few days, you might imagine a joyful dependence, and a faith-filled prayer that the God who has already acted with such glorious power, would continue to provide for the people He has now adopted as His own.  Instead, we are given a master-class in suspicion, faithlessness, mistrust and disobedience.  Is it any wonder we are warned no to follow their example (I Cor.10:5-10).  At this stage in the narrative, Israel is functionally atheist, as are we when our first reaction to trouble is grumbling and anxiety.  But like a loving Father, the LORD graciously begins to discipline and train them in His ways (‘Do everything without complaining…’, Phil.2:14).  He invites them to trust Him, and proves Himself trustworthy again and again. 

Do you think the Hebrews actually had ‘sat round pots of meat, and ate all the food we wanted’ (16:3)?  If not, why do you think they say what they do?





Why is their ‘grumbling’ such a wicked thing to do?   What do we learn about the LORD from His response in 16:4-5?  What do we learn about the Church (I Cor.10:11-12)





When is ‘grumbling’ against leaders legitimate?  When does grumbling against leaders become grumbling against God (16:6-9; 17:2)?  How can we learn to resist the temptation to make the same mistakes?





What is the test (v.4) that the LORD is administering here (see also Deut.8:2 & 16 etc.)?  Does the LORD know what the outcome will be?  Is it a frightening thing to be tested by the LORD?  Can you think of ways the LORD might similarly test the Church today?  What action would such a ‘test’ lead to?  How could we learn from their failure (16:20)?





How is the LORD’s testing of the people different from the people’s testing of the LORD (17:3 & 7)?  In what ways does the Church continue to test the LORD?  How can we learn to do things differently?





What is the point of the manna from heaven (see also Deut.8:3)?  Why do you think they couldn’t keep any till morning, but had to collect it ‘fresh’ each day?  What does this teach us about our relationship with the LORD?



What do you make of the description of Manna in Psalm 78:25?  What is the significance of our being told that it tastes like honey (16:31)?





Jesus teaches that Manna was prophetic of Him (John 6:32-35 & 48-59.  It is interesting to note that ‘grumbling’ features in John 6:41-43).  In what ways does the Manna teach us about Christ?  What points is Jesus making when He says He is the Bread from Heaven?  How would that encourage you as a Christian, and deepen your understanding of Jesus?





What do we learn in Ex.16:22-30 about the importance of the Sabbath?  Are Christians still required to keep the Sabbath?  If so, what does that look like?  How important should it be in the life of the Church?




How does Paul use Exodus 16:17-18 in II Cor.8:15?  Do you think He is right to do this?  What do we learn from this for our own experience of discipleship today?  How can we help each other to grow in this area of discipleship?




How does the rock prefigure and teach us about Jesus (Ex.17:7 & I Cor.10:4)?




The Old Testament has a number of passages which narrate varying degrees of genocide (such as Ex.17:8-16).  Israel’s war with the Amalekites is a recurring theme (see e.g. Num.14; Deut.25:17-19; Jdgs 10:12; I Sam.15 & the book of Esther).  What do you make of such passages?  How are they any different from people who declare ‘holy wars’ today?  What would you say to someone who couldn’t believe the Bible was the word of God on the basis of such passages?   What can we learn from them?




What is the significance of Moses’ actions during the battle with Amalek?  …and of Joshua’s?  What is the connection between the two?  How does the Name of the LORD serve as a banner?





Do you think Jethro becomes aChristian in 18:9-11?  What do you think is happening in 18:12?





Why do some leaders resist delegating?  How do qualities such as ‘capable’, ‘God-fearing’, ‘trustworthy’, and ‘hating dishonest gain’ still apply to good leaders in the life of the Church today?





How could this model of leadership be more effectively implemented in the lives of our Churches?




Concluding thoughts:


Every event resonates with prophetic significance.  Jesus famously picks up the incident with the Manna in John 6; Paul tells us the ‘rock was Christ’ (I Cor.10:4 / John 4); and Hebrews teaches us to see the Sabbath in a deeply Christ-centred way - to say nothing of Joshua’s defeat of the Amalekites, and Moses sitting as judge among the people!  But perhaps the most compelling of links to Jesus’ own ministry is the contrast between Israel’s and Jesus’ experience in the wilderness.  Matthew 4:1-10 shows us the glorious victory of Christ as He triumphs over the tempter, and the temptation.  There is no grumbling or quarrelling, doubting or cynicism as Jesus remained steadfast in His trust in God’s Words, refused to put His God and Father to the test, and as He resolved to worship only Him.  As the Angel of the LORD watched the unfolding tragedy of Israel’s distrust and disobedience, He knew that in the fullness of time He Himself would stand in their place, facing the same temptations (though to a much greater intensity), yet proving Himself the true firstborn Son as He is ‘tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin’ (Heb.4:15). 

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Exodus Ch14-15

Week 6 / Exodus 13-15

 It’s a theme that tends not to feature highly in the songs and hymns of Churches rooted in the culture of a liberal democracy: ‘God is a warrior…In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you.  You unleashed your burning anger…’ (Ex.15:3 & 6-7).  And yet the same act that brings deliverance for God’s people brings destruction on those who oppose Him – in this case, the Egyptian army (14:26-31).  Even more disturbingly for many is that fact that both deliverance and destruction sit comfortably side by side in the Church’s worship.  The same song that celebrates: ‘In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed’, speaks of the LORD hurling His enemies into the sea, shattering His enemies, and anticipates the nations trembling as terror and dread fall on them as a result of the LORD’s action in history.  

Whilst, in our basically therapeutic age, we may struggle with the question of how a loving God could treat people like this (14:26-31), and how a Church could celebrate it (15:1-12), the Bible (and much of today’s Church in other parts of the world) seems to struggle far more with exactly the opposite question: How can a loving God not treat people like this more often?  Why do the wicked seem so often to prosper, and ‘get away with it’?  I wonder if our unease with God acting in such direct destruction is to do with our proximity to persecution and oppression.  We do not delight in the God who avenges, if there is nothing particularly to avenge. 

There is a certain cultural elitism that would dismiss the ancient Church’s celebration on the shores of the Red Sea as primitive, mis-guided or just under-developed.  Some might seek to evade the supposed problems of Moses & Miriam’s praise with a pious remark about how the Church has thankfully grown out of such a militaristic mind-set.  We have, they maintain, heard the ways of Jesus – forgiveness, love for enemies, turning the other cheek – in a way that Moses, in his hopelessly barbaric and primeval world view could never have anticipated, or appreciated. 

It is easy for a self-indulgent Christianity, which has never suffered the horrors of systemic persecution (Ex.1-2&5); which has never birthed martyrs, prisoners of conscience or slaves, which has never endured family members being kidnapped, loss of property or security raids, to fall into a kind of sentimental naiveté.  The idea that Moses & Miriam are hampered by a limited awareness of God’s character and ways (as if God’s revelation was evolutionary), or that they are blinded by cultural blinkers is such patent nonsense it almost laughable.  The Church never ‘grows out’ of this vision of God (Rev.6:10; 19:2 etc.).  Whether we are comfortable with it or not, the honest listening to the text of Scripture presents us throughout with a vision of God who is a Warrior, and who in the same act both delivers His people and destroys His enemies.

How would you feel if God slaughtered the security forces and the government, imploded the economy, collapsed the ecology, instigated famine and bereaved the families of a nation where the Church is persecuted in our own generation?  Could you worship such a God?  What questions would it raise for you as a Christian?  What questions does it cause you to ask that God doesn’t do such things?

What would you say to a political or military leader who appealed to the story of Exodus to justify their own violence? 

What do you think / feel about parts of the Bible that recount stories in which many people (sometimes whole nations) are killed either by God or by the command of God?

 In the light of the coming Day of the LORD, what do you think we need to learn from such narratives?

 Do you think the militaristic vision of God is appropriate for use in the Church’s worship and celebration in our day and age?  Why / why not?

 13:19 (cf. Gen.50:25).  How do you think the Israelites kept / could have kept their hope of deliverance alive during the years of oppression?

 In the drama we are witnessing in Exodus, what are we supposed to learn from the Angel of the LORD’s presence with His people in the fiery, cloudy pillar (13:21-22; 14:19 etc.)?

What do you make of the fact that the LORD seems to be deliberately misleading Pharaoh in order to induce him to pursue the Israelites (14:1-3)?

How will the LORD ‘gain glory’ through the death of ‘Pharaoh and all his army’ (14:4)?  What does the LORD mean when He says that ‘the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD’?

Read 14:10-12.  Why do you think the faith of the Israelites is so fragile after everything they have lived through in recent months?  How can we strengthen our own faith?

Generations later, the prophet Hosea reflected on the heart of God to His people as revealed in the deliverance of His people from Egypt.  ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son (Hos.11:1).  What do you think it means that Israel ends up back in Egypt during the days of the exile (see e.g. Jeremiah 42-44 / Hos.8:13 & 11:5)?  Is there anything we can learn from this for our own experience of discipleship and Church?  Why does Jesus return to Egypt (Matt.2:13-15)?

Paul in I Cor.10:2, famously refers to the deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea as their being ‘baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea’.  What does Paul mean by this?  Why does he say they were baptised ‘into Moses’, rather than Christ?  What effect is his teaching supposed to have in the Church at Corinth?   What do we learn about Paul’s thinking on sacraments here?

How do you think Moses felt being so directly implicated in the destruction of the Egyptian army (14:26-28)?


Concluding thoughts:

There are typically three questions asked by the western Church as they read accounts of God’s acting in judgement and destruction.  The first relates to the love of God.  Interestingly, Ex.15:13 is the first time in the Bible we are told that God is loving.  The love of God is revealed precisely through His redemption of His people, and the consequent condemnation of those who love darkness and do evil (see Jn.3:16-20). The second relates to whether Moses had an inherently incomplete or impoverished revelation of God, which explained why he thought this was appropriate.  In fact, Moses has an incredibly deep experience and full vision of God.  He speaks with the Father on Sinai (Ex.19:20f); the Angel of the LORD face-to-face (33:11), enjoys fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and exercises His gifts (Num.11:17-29).  We also need to recognise that acts and rhetoric of judgement and destruction such as these run throughout the Old and New Testaments, and can’t simply be relegated to an embarrassing corner of ancient history.  Quite apart from the testimony of later prophets (Is.63:1-6), the language of Jesus Himself in the Gospels is pretty stark (Matt.24:51; 25:46 etc.), not to mention that of the Apostles (II Pet.3:7), who seem to envisage the Church’s anticipation of the destruction of their enemies (II Thess.2:6-10), and indeed their own participation in that ‘holy war’ (I Cor.6:2-4; Rev.19:14).  The third question explores how we make sense of God’s acts of judgement in light of Jesus’ teaching e.g. to love our enemies.  But God’s acting in judgement doesn’t stand in opposition to the command to love our enemies, rather it provides the context in which it is possible to do so (Rom.12:17-21; I Pet.2:21-25)

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Exodus Ch11-13

Week 5 / Exodus 11-13

In the Bible, ‘Remembering’ is a critical spiritual discipline.  We have a tendency to a kind of spiritual amnesia, which is not just unfortunate, or even merely damaging, but in the light of Divine commands, is sinful.  Even within Moses’ own lifetime the call to remember is repeated, and is built in to the worshipping life of the ancient Church.   Indeed, the deep necessity of the Church to remember accounts for the origins of Scripture itself: ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered…’ (Ex.17:14).  The repeated calls and aids to remember saturate the writings of Moses.  The redeemed people of God, for example, are to remember their experience of slavery (Ex.12:8; Dt.5:15); and the LORD’s acting on their behalf to deliver them (Dt.7:18).  Similarly, they must never forget their ongoing sinfulness (Dt.9:7), or the covenant the LORD has made with them (Dt.4:23 & 31).  It isn’t just religious festivals that are calculated to help them remember, but even their clothing (Num.15:37-41) is designed to evoke their spiritual memories.  Perhaps the deepest of all such calls is the simple command to remember the LORD Himself (Dt.6:12 & 8:11-19).

And it isn’t simply for their own benefit that the people of God are to cultivate the discipline of remembering.  It is also for the sake of their children.  Deut.4:9, ‘Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them’.  This is a recurring mandate for the embryonic Church: Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you (Dt.32:7, also Ex.13:8).  Even those who weren’t directly involved in the Exodus are commanded to remember it.  The whole family of the Church is to develop a corporate memory that shapes, defines and informs not just our own generation, but also the generations to come.

Our relentless tendency to spiritual amnesia is not merely an unfortunate characteristic.  Remembering is of course a God-like quality, and it is only because the LORD remembers His people and His Covenant (Ex.2:24 & 6:5) that the Church has anything to remember in the first place.   And so our persistent failure to remember proves to be more than a minor inconvenience, or irritation, perhaps on par with forgetting where we have left our keys.  It is symptomatic of our lack of God-likeness.  It is the far more devastating and disorienting experience of forgetting who we are, and why we are.  In the light of the plethora of commands to remember, to forget is not just damaging, but sinful.  Generations later, the same LORD who had redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt would look askance at the life of Israel. ‘Enquire among the nations: Who has ever heard anything like this?  A most horrible thing has happened … my people have forgotten me’ (Jer.18:13 & 15)

What is the significance of the ‘firstborn’ (see Gen.27; Gen.48:12-18; Ps.89:27)?  Why does the LORD call Israel His ‘firstborn son’ (Ex.4:22)?  Do you think there is any connection between passages like Exodus 11-13 & Jesus being spoken of as the ‘firstborn [son]’ (e.g. Lk.2:7; Rom.8:29; Col.1:15 & 18; Heb.1:6 & 12:23; Rev.1:5)?

We are taught that the plagues are an expression of God’s judgement on Egypt (Ex.6:6; 7:4; 12:12 etc.).   And we can see that they are proportionate, that they fit the crime, and that they are just (see e.g. Rev.16:4-6).  How is the plague of the death of the firstborn proportionate and just?

Generations later, the Psalmist reflects on the plague of the firstborn, and finds that it evokes deep worship: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good … to Him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, His love endures forever’ (136:1 & 10).   As you reflect on this last and final plague, do you respond in the same way as the Psalmist?  Do you think you should?  How do you think you could draw closer to the Psalmist’s thinking and experience of worship?

Ps.78 is a remembering of the events of Egypt.  In Psalm 78:51 Egypt is called ‘the tents of Ham’ (see Gen.9:18-29).  Why do you think this is? Why is it significant, and how does it affect your understanding of the Exodus?

Given that the LORD prophesied in Exodus 4:21-24 that He would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son, do you think there was any way Pharaoh could have avoided bringing this plague on Egypt?  How can we reconcile this to any concept of human responsibility for decisions we make?

In 12:33-34, the Israelites take dough without yeast.  This will be a feature of the Feast of the Passover & Unleavened Bread for generations to come (see 12:14-20 & 13:7-8)?  Why was this important?  What did it signify… and what would it signify if the Israelites had eaten bread with yeast?  Can you find any other bread-without-yeast- references in the Bible?  What do they teach us about being the redeemed people of God?

How does the Passover Lamb teach us about Jesus (see Luke 22:7-20; I Cor.5:7 etc.)?  Why were the family to ‘take care of it’ from the tenth day until the fourteenth day (12:3-6)?   How do passages such as Gen.22:8-14 deepen our thinking of the Exodus?

How does familiarity with the Passover help us to engage more meaningfully as we celebrate communion?  If you are a parent, how does the model of teaching your children in the midst of the Passover inspire and help you as you think about bringing up your own children in the training and instruction of the Lord?

How does the LORD’s striking down the firstborn bring ‘judgement on the all the gods of Egypt’ (12:12; Num.33:4)?  Why does the firstborn son of every family in Egypt have to die (11:5; 12:29)?  …and why the firstborn of the cattle and livestock?

 Who is the ‘destroyer’ of Ex.12:23 (see also 12:29; 13:15)?

12:35-36.  Why do you think the LORD made the Egyptians ‘favourably disposed to the Israelites’ in this way (see also 3:21 & 11:2-3)?  What will these riches be used for (see 25:1-9 & 32:2-4)?  What lessons can we learn from these passages for how we use the resources God provides?

12:42.  How did the people manage to hold on to their faith that God would deliver them for 430 years?  …or did they?  How would their perspective on the events of this night be different depending on whether they were trusting this prophecy?

Why is the land of Canaan described as a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ (13:5)?  And as we are going to have to face the question sooner or later: what do we make of the fact that there are already people living in the land the LORD has promised to Israel?  What is the connection between the time Israel spends in the land of Egypt, and the land the LORD has promised them (see Gen.15:16)?


Concluding thoughts:

In chapter 13:1-16, the LORD commands His Church to redeem their firstborn sons.  They belong to Him because He spared them in Egypt.  Luke quotes Ex.13:1 when he tells us that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple (Lk.2:22-24).  Every firstborn son in the history of the Church was reminding God’s people of the Firstborn Son who would come to redeem the people from slavery!  Elsewhere in the New Testament are accounted as first-born because of their union with Christ.  In addition we are called ‘saints’ i.e. the set-apart / consecrated ones’, belonging to the LORD.  This moment in Exodus – the death of the Passover Lamb - is our history.  It defines our present.  It is the focus of our future.  For all eternity, the redeemed will declare the worthiness of the Lamb who was slain (Rev.5).

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Exodus Ch7-10

Week 4 / Exodus 7-10

From the outset the Church is an international community.  The Plagues in Egypt, and the consequent deliverance of ‘Israel’ are usually thought of as running along ethnic, or racial lines, and consequently the story of Exodus has long been used to speak into situations of ethnically or racially based division and/or oppression.  But the border between ‘Egypt’ and ‘Israel’ is not ethnicity; it is theology.  Throughout Exodus, we are confronted again and again with the multi-ethnicity of the Church that God redeems.  It is a theme even before Moses confronts Pharaoh (& long after, see Is.56:6-8).

Remember that Moses marries a Midianite, Zipporah (2:21).  This inter-racial marriage sets the tone for the multi-cultural (or perhaps trans-cultural) culture of the Church’s life.  But like so much else about being the Church, this vision of one, international community was something Israel learned the hard way… and often forgot.  In Numbers 12, we are confronted with a distressing racism in the heart of the Church’s leadership.  Miriam and Aaron begin to speak against Moses because of his Cushite wide (see Hab.3:7 for the link between Midian and Cush).  This is something that is so incredibly serious in the eyes of the LORD, that He immediately gets personally involved.  As an old colleague of mine once put it: the LORD confronts Miriam with the sin of her racism – if Miriam has a problem with Moses’ wife being ‘black’, then Miriam herself will be ‘white’ (see Numbers 12:10).

Closely connected with all this, of course, is the story of Zipporah’s father, Reuel (Jethro is more likely a title).  Whether or not he is already a worshipper of the Living God when Moses first meets him, he is certainly confirmed in his faith by Ex.18:9-12.  This international composition of the Church is underlined repeatedly in the book of the Exodus.  Some of Pharaoh’s officials seem to realise early on that they are locked in combat with none other than the Living God (8:19), and at various points during the experience of the plagues, seem to identify with Him (9:20, ‘fear the LORD’ is a strong phrase reminiscent of e.g. Ex.1:21, that alerts us to their conversion).  Others remained allied with Pharaoh, ignoring the Word of the LORD (9:21) and hardened their hearts (9:34).  

By the time the final plague is being anticipated, it is recognised that those who stand with Pharaoh and those who stand with the LORD cannot be divided on racial grounds.  Pharaoh and his officials will tell Moses to ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you’ (11:8).  It is no longer just ‘Hebrews’.  Israelites can be cut off from ‘Israel’ if they do not trust the LORD (12:19), and Egyptians are included as Israelites if they do (12:38, ‘Many other people went up with them…’).  The Israelite community is explicitly seen as incorporating those who have been born into Israel (native-born), and those who join later in life (the alien living among you).  Whatever their nationality, if their males are circumcised, they are allowed to eat the Passover, unlike others, who do not bear the seal of the covenant (‘temporary residents’, ‘hired workers’ or ‘foreigners’, see. 12:43-49).

In the light of these considerations what do you make of the fact that ‘Israel’ can be spoken of as ‘Egypt’ (Rev.11:8)?

Does realising this affect how you think about the Plagues and the Exodus itself?

The plagues are effectively a cosmic clash of power between the power of the Living God and the idols of Pharaoh and the demonic powers that lie behind them (Ex.12:12).  We tend to imagine a sanitised version of these horrific acts of war that is suitable for Sunday School.  But the reality of this titanic battle for the deliverance of the Church was truly dreadful to live through.

Do you think the Egyptian ‘wise men and sorcerers’ were employing illusions and parlour tricks, or there is a more sinister power at work in and through them? 

Why do you think Aaron’s staff becomes a snake … that can eat the magicians’ snakes (7:12)

Why do you think the magicians replicate the plagues (of water into blood, and frogs), rather than doing something to alleviate the situation?

Ex.9:16 and 10:2 give the Plagues a universal agenda.  What are they designed to achieve in Egypt? …before the nations of the world? …in the life of the Church throughout the ages? 

What do you think is the significance of the fact that the Plagues of Egypt are repeated in the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev.9:3; 16:3-4; 16:10; 16:13 etc.)

Have you noticed any other points of contact between Exodus and Revelation as we have begun to work our way through these two books?

Why do you think there are 10 plagues?  And why do you think the plagues are of what they are (blood; frogs, gnats etc.)?  Surely if Yahweh wants to redeem His people He could just do it without the prelude of the plagues?

Do you think the account of the plagues has anything to teach us today, as Christians living in Ipswich?  If so, what?

What would you say to someone who suggested the plagues were an entirely natural phenomena (an overload of red silt in the Nile, that lead to an overpopulation of frogs, that when they died gave rise to the plague of flies etc…)?

The plagues are in part directed against the gods of Egypt (Ex.12:12).  What serves as gods in our own culture?  Why do you think God tolerates the presence of other gods?  How does He ‘judge’ such gods in our experience today? …or does He?

How would you help someone identify their idols?  Does the ‘idol(s)’ someone worships affect how you would share with them the good news of Jesus Christ?

How does God’s demonstration of His superiority help you in your own experience of discipleship and worship?

As the experience of the plagues deepens, Pharaoh faces up to the fact He is dealing with a power far beyond his own ability.  There is a growing willingness to concede some ground.  But it is very different from actual repentance (see e.g. 8:28, and especially 10:16).   How would you describe the characteristics of true repentance?  In what ways does your own experience of repentance fall short of this?  How could we deepen our experience of repentance as a Church?


Concluding thoughts:

The multi-ethnic, international composition of the Church has always been integral to the Lord’s vision for His people (in particular, Egyptians! See e.g. Isaiah 19:19-25, Ezek.29:6 and Psalm 87:4).  It is at the heart of the cross (Eph.2:15, note: His purpose…).  Only in the Church can anything approaching actual multi-culturalism be realised.  Our foundational commitment to Christ radically subverts our commitment to our own culture; as our foundational identity in Christ radically subverts our being identified primarily by our own ethnicity or nationality.  This doesn’t mean we have to pretend to be someone or something we aren’t.  But it does mean that we recognise our commitment to each other transcends our cultural, ethnic or national boundaries, and claims a prior loyalty.  Our love for each other in Christ compels us to humbly negotiate the reality of our cultural differences, whether those come from within or without our national identity.  It might seem obvious that another country has a different culture, but what about the different cultures in our own country, or town or community.  Failure here is not merely a shame, it is a sin, and a betrayal of our destiny in Christ (Rev.7:9-14).

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Exodus Ch5-6

Exodus 5-6 / week 3


In Pharaoh’s response to Moses & Aaron, we begin to see what a ‘hardened heart’ (4:21, 7:3, 7:13, 8:15 etc.) looks and sounds like.[1]  Each plague will be a call for repentance, albeit one Pharaoh will stubbornly refuse to heed.   It would be easy to assume that Pharaoh must be an extreme example of rebellious humanity, a once in a generation kind of epitome of sin.  But similar language is used of the Church’s own experience of the Exodus (Ps.95:7-8, cf. also Heb.3:12-4:11).  A hard heart is the common experience of us all before we are Christians, and we can still tend in that direction even after we have been redeemed (Heb.3:13-14).  It is so identified with our sinful condition that the very essence of salvation can be spoken of in these terms: ‘I will give you a new heart … I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’ (Ezek.36:26).

The foundational expression of a ‘hardened heart’ is summed up in the first words out of Pharaoh’s heart: ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey Him..?’  Our refusal to recognise the right of Yahweh to tell us who we should be and how we should live is archetypal fallen humanity.  We often think people don’t respond to the claims of the LORD on their lives because of ignorance, i.e. they simply don’t understand.  That can easily lead to our thinking that if we can win the argument, we can win the person.  In fact, the Apostle Paul teaches us that it is the other way round.  Our ‘ignorance’ of God, and our separation from His life, is the result of the hardening of our hearts (Eph.4:17-18, see also Prov.4:23).  This is the root of our sinful thinking and behaviour.  Our darkened mind seeks to justify intellectually the desire of our hardened heart to live without reference to the LORD, but ends up only with ‘futile thinking’.  This helps us understand why we can’t argue people into the Kingdom of God.  We can win the arguments, but people will still demur, and refuse Christ.  The issue is deeper than understanding.  As the cliché runs: the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.  We simply don’t want the LORD.

Conversion is the creation of a new heart, and with it, new desires.  When we are reconciled to the life of God, we are re-introduced to the glorious reality of who the LORD is, and we begin to learn again what it is to love Him.  And when our desire is for Him, our redeemed intellect begins to re-inforce those desires, justifying them and explaining them, re-interpreting the world so that our own interior life resonates with the rest of creation that declares His glory.  We understand and experience Him to be worthy of all our adoration, and the only source of our joy and delight.  This was the LORD’s intention for Israel in the Exodus: ‘…that they may hold a festival (5:1), …offer sacrifices (5:3), …worship me (7:16)’.  It remains still the LORD’s heart for the Church.

Why do you think Moses spends so much time describing the new, more brutal, regime the Church is now subjected to?  Why does the LORD allow things to get even worse for the Hebrews?

Do you think it is reasonable (or even justifiable?) for anyone to respond to the LORD’s words as Pharaoh does in 5:2?  Can anyone claim to not know who the LORD is (5:2)?  How does your thinking on this line up with Paul’s reflections in e.g. Rom 1:18-21?

Read Gen.47:20-17.  How does this background make Pharaoh’s opposition to the LORD all the more wicked?

The whole book of Exodus could be seen as an answer to Pharaoh’s opening question.  How would you summarise it?

Both the LORD and Pharaoh command the Hebrews to ‘Go!’ (5:1 & 5:10), but to very different destinies.  What does this tell us about Pharaoh, and the LORD?  What spiritual lessons are we being taught?

What does 5:15-19 teach us about the psychology of the Israelites.  How do they see themselves, and how does this shape their response?  Have they learned yet to think of themselves as the LORD’s people (see v.16)?  Why do you think this is?  How could they develop a sense of identity that cohered more closely to reality?  How would that have affected their response to the developing situation?

When have you been tempted to think that it would be better if you’d never started following the LORD?  What do we learn from this episode in Exodus?

Look at 5:20-21.  Why do the Israelites treat Moses and Aaron in this way?  Why are they so bitter?  What would a healthier relationship between the people and their leaders look like?  Have you ever seen anything comparable to this?  How could this be increasingly cultivated in our Church?  In retrospect, how could things have been different?

Moses reaction in 5:20-21 is understandable, but is it right?  There seems to be a hangover from his earlier reluctance, a sense of ‘I told you this wouldn’t work, LORD’.  Where does this come from?   Is this something you can identify with?  What do we learn about the LORD and His ways from his response to Moses? 

How is this reassertion / repetition of the LORD’s commitment to act supposed to encourage Moses?  Is there anything comparable in our experience today?

How does Moses grow in faith through this interaction, or does he (v.12)?

How do you make sense of the observation that the LORD’s will for Moses seems to include failure and rejection?

In Exodus 6:3, it seems as if the LORD is saying no-one knew him by the Name of Yahweh before this point.  Yet as early as Gen.4:1&26, this Name is already in use (note the NIV use of capitalised LORD to alert us to the use of the Name ‘Yahweh’).  What is the LORD then saying in Ex.6:3?

Why are we suddenly presented with a genealogy of Moses and Aaron at this point in the book of Exodus? 


Concluding thoughts

 By the end of Ch.6 the stage is set for the most famous part of Exodus: the ten plagues.  In contrast to the optimism of our last study, apparent setback has resulted in a dark pessimism.  Things seem worse than ever and the Israelites are so discouraged in their cruel bondage (6:9) that they will not listen to Moses.  Their attitude rubs off on Moses, and we are left with Moses rehearsing the inevitability of failure.  In purely human terms, there is simply no hope, only the unrelenting anticipation of brutal oppression and eventual extermination.  Paul draws on these categories when he speaks of the plight of humanity under sin: slavery and death.  Fallen humanity lives in the same bleak atmosphere of hopeless despair.  Only the intervention of God can give any hope of freedom and life.  This is the message of Exodus.


[1] This vocabulary continues to be used to explain the behaviour of those who oppose Israel (Joshua 11:20), and interestingly seems to be understood and adopted by other nations as they too reflect on the Exodus, (see I Samuel 6:6).

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Exodus Ch3-4

Exodus 3-4 / Week 2


Moses is 80.  40 years have passed between the end of Exodus 2 and the start of Exodus 3.  Forty years of oppression, slavery, and state sponsored genocide (1:22); of horror and of untold stories of anonymous suffering, hopelessness and despair; of grief and loss and of living in constant fear.  Forty years of unanswered prayers (2:23); of silence from heaven; of apparent Divine disinterest.  We are told in 2:25 that ‘God was concerned about them’, but to the Hebrews who lived and died working the brick kilns of Egypt, to the mothers who had watched their sons drown in the Nile, to those whose lives were ‘bitter’, there was no indication that God had heard their groaning.  Any talk of God’s concern would bring little consolation.  What’s the point of a God who is concerned, but who does not act?

And yet, while the spotlight burns on the plight of the Church centre stage, a shepherd is tending the flock of his father-in-law in the darkness off stage.   A seeming irrelevance to the plight of the Church.  And yet in a forgotten shepherd we find the hope of the world and of the Church.  He may not have appreciated it at the time, but Moses had spent a generation rehearsing the part he would play in the drama of God’s redemption (3:12).  If ever there was someone you could think of as an understudy for Jesus, it would be Moses.  Few have been brought deeper into an understanding of the experience of Jesus than this humble shepherd in the wilderness of Midian (see e.g. 32:31-2 & Num.12:3).  As the Exodus unfolds, we’ll begin to see just how profound Moses’ grasp of the death of Christ is. But is it any wonder that when Jesus wanted to speak to someone about His own Exodus, He chose Moses (Lk.9:30)?  Luke is very clear about what Jesus, Moses and Elijah discussed, although English translations obscure the point by telling us that ‘they spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem’ (v.31).  However, the word Luke uses is ‘…His exodus’.  In fact, if you think about it, the whole scene is somewhat reminiscent of events of the Exodus, with all that lightning and glorious brilliance shining out from the top of a mountain!  It must have brought back memories of Sinai for Moses, who of course had been engulfed in the glory of, and had heard the voice of, the Father before (Dt.4:11-12).  Many Bible students delight to point out that in the events of Luke 9, Moses was finally granted his desire to stand in the promised land.

The account of the (un)Burning Bush is one of the most famous passages in Scripture.  And as is so often the way, the way in which it has been pervasively handled by those who are not Christians has obscured the deep realities that Christians should be able to perceive.  Historically, this is a passage that has captivated some of the greatest Bible students the Church has ever seen.  But as with so much in the Book of Exodus, we may assume we understand more than we actually do.

Who or what do you think the Angel of the LORD is that appears to Moses in the flames of fire?  What is the relationship between the Angel of the LORD (3:2); the LORD who saw that [Moses] had gone over to look (3:4), and God, who called to Moses from within the bush (3:4)?

Why does the LORD / Angel of the LORD appear to Moses in a bush that was on fire, but which did not burn up?  And why does Moses have to take off His sandals (3:5)?

‘I AM WHO I AM’.  What does this teach us about God?  How does that draw us into worship?  How was this identification of the LORD, along with the LORD’s promise to be with him (3:12), supposed to encourage Moses as he is commissioned to the task of leading the people out of Egypt?  And what about ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers…’ (3:15)?

In 3:18, Moses is told to request a 3 day journey into the desert.  He does this in 8:27 (though without the elders of Israel – how did that happen?).  Isn’t this disingenuous at best, and dishonest at worst?  Is God suggesting Moses should lie?

What is the purpose or reason the LORD gives for redeeming His people from slavery in Egypt?  Do you think this is still the main purpose for the Church?  How well do you think our Church fulfils that purpose?  How could we do it better?  Can you think of any other parts of the book of Exodus that might help inform our answers to these questions?

Why doesn’t the LORD find someone more willing to serve Him in this task?  Why won’t He just accept that Moses doesn’t want to do the job, (3:11, 3:13, 4:1, 4:10, 4:13) and call someone else instead of getting angry with Moses, (4:14)?

The difference between the hesitant and unwilling Moses of Exodus 3-4 and the man of strident faith he becomes later in the book is breath-taking.  How do you think he grew?  What lessons are there for us to learn if we want to grow in our faith?

In Chapter 4, the LORD gives Moses 3 signs.  Do you think there is a significance and meaning to them (and if so, what?), or are they simply ‘random’ signs that prepare Moses to perform much more significant signs and wonders in his confrontations with Pharaoh?




What do you make of 4:11?  How do you feel about a God who ‘…makes him deaf or mute …makes him blind’?  Do you think we should still talk about God like this?  Are you comfortable worshipping and proclaiming such a God as this?  Does this section (vv.11-17) encourage you or disturb you as you seek to serve the LORD?

As we consider the relationship between Moses and Aaron (4:14-16), what do we learn about a prophet’s experience of being inspired by the Spirit of the Lord?  How does this affect your view of the Bible?  Why does Aaron’s role become less prominent as the narrative of Exodus unfolds?

What is the significance of Israel being called the LORD’s ‘firstborn son’ (4:22-23)?

It is often suggested that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and only as a result of this did the LORD harden his heart.  But what do we make of the fact that here in 4:21, the LORD speaks of hardening Pharaoh’s heart even before Moses has addressed him (see also Ps.105:25)?  What use does the Apostle Paul makes of this passage in Romans 9:14-18?  Do you agree or disagree with Paul?  Why / why not?

4:24-26.  What on earth is going on here?  What is the meaning of circumcision?  Why would the LORD move to kill Moses (or perhaps Moses’ son himself) because one of his sons wasn’t circumcised?  And why does Zipporah call someone a ‘bridegroom of blood’?  Does this have any relevance at all to Christians in Ipswich in the 21st Century?


Concluding thoughts


At the end of Chapter 4, the mood is deceptively optimistic:  Moses has finally, if a little reluctantly been commissioned, supported by Aaron; the signs have been successfully performed, and the people believed (4:31).  The Church bows in worship, seemingly confident in the realisation that their God has in fact heard them, and was concerned about them, after all.  But their joy is fragile, and shatters at the first touch of opposition.  Moses is not yet a great leader, and neither is he leading a people who are resolutely envisioned, and who are stepping out in faith to follow one they recognised as called of God.  All of which leaves the focus of the Exodus not on the great contribution made by Moses, Aaron or the elders, or indeed the people of Israel, but solely on the Lord who set His affection on Israel and chose them to be His treasured possession not because they were more numerous, but because the LORD loved them and kept the oath He swore to their forefathers (Dt.7:6-9; also 4:34).  This and this alone explains the Exodus, and indeed the Church in every generation. 

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Exodus Ch1-2

Exodus / Week 1


Introductory comments


The writings of Moses are amongst the most ancient in the Scriptures, and are arranged first in the Old Testament with good reason.  They provide for us the foundations on which everything else we will read throughout the Bible is built.  They give shape and direction, content and definition to the history of the Church and her worship and thinking.  And they explain the terribly plight of a sinful humanity, and how God will graciously restore a people to Himself.  Again and again we find Jesus, and the Apostles stretching back through the generations of the people of God to ground their teaching and actions in the writings of Moses. 

 It is in Exodus that we are first told that God is loving.  It is in Exodus that we are introduced to language, concepts and ideas that are absolutely critical if we are to understand our experience as Christians.  In Exodus we are taught the structure of our world and the meaning of life, and are given a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the whole of human history.  It is in Exodus that we are taught what it means to be and to do Church, and what it doesn’t mean!  It is in Exodus that we are shown in detail what the character of God is like and how that shapes the life of Christian discipleship in the midst of a fallen world.  It is Exodus that teaches us the dynamics of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to each other, to the Church and to the world. 

We’ll be moving fairly swiftly through the book, covering it all before Advent gets under way.  That means that in our services we will be dealing with the ‘Big Picture’ stuff.  These notes and the questions that follow are designed to help us work out the implications and wrestle through some of the more detailed discussion in the context of our own personal devotional life and in our home groups.  This means we will be reflecting on the Book of the Exodus with others whom we trust and in a context of prayer and support as we seek not just to understand what we believe, but to live it.

Please don’t feel bound by these questions, especially when using these studies to frame HomeGroup discussions.  There may be other questions that arise from sermons, or our own reflection on the text that we would find it more helpful to discuss.  Please feel free to do so!  And don’t feel you need to answer them all in one HomeGroup.  You might only negotiate two or three of the questions in an evening, but you can use the questions to help you think through the issues in other ways and at other time too…


Week 1:  Exodus 1-2


Exodus, of course, doesn’t start in vacuum.  There is already a history of God’s involvement in human history, and there is a profound sense of intentionality in that involvement.

Just one example of this takes us back to Gen.15:12-16, where the LORD gives Abram the future history of the Exodus in 3 verses.  What is particularly poignant is the LORD’s knowledge of Israel’s slavery and suffering, and the judgement that will come upon Egypt as a direct result.  ‘Know for certain…’ suggests a certain non-negotiable character to the LORD’s pronouncements.  What do you make of the fact that the Lord knows that four centuries of oppression are in store for His people, yet seemingly does nothing about it, either before or during their generations of oppression?  Why does the LORD not act either to prevent that suffering, or to bring it to an end much sooner than He does? 

Why does God not act like this on behalf of oppressed and enslaved people more generally?  He is clearly able to act to overthrow and judge oppressive regimes, so why does the Exodus stand as such a unique experience in the long history of humanity’s inhumanity?  Given that there are some estimated 28 million people enslaved in the world today, why is there no contemporary Exodus?[1]  Does the book of Exodus give the Church a mandate to get involved in issues such as oppression and slavery?

Joseph was – at one time – the second most important and influential man in Egypt if not the world.  How could he be forgotten in Egypt?  What lessons do we learn about fame, influence and importance?

…but Joseph is remembered throughout the rest of the Bible, and continues to be an example to the Church today.  How can this encourage us as we seek to live as faithful Christians in the world today?

In our own experience we regularly face situations where our faith conflicts with what the world expects or demands from us.  What can we learn about how to respond to those kinds of situations from the story of the midwives?  How did they find the courage to endanger their own lives in this way?  What do we learn about their character and their relationship with the Lord?

How do you make sense of the fact that seemingly God blessed the midwives when they lie to Pharaoh?  Does this mean it is OK to lie so long as we do so from good intentions?

What similarities are there between the birth of Moses, and of Jesus (see especially Matthew 2)?  What do you think we are supposed to learn from these parallels?

The word that is used to describe the ‘papyrus basket’ in which Moses is laid is the Hebrew word Tebah.  It is the same word that is used to describe Noah’s Ark – and that is the only other place it is found in the Bible?  Do you think that is significant?  Why / why not?

Read Acts 7:17-29.  Do you think Stephen is right to interpret the actions of Moses in Exodus 2:11-15 in the way he does?  Why do you think Moses first attempt to lead the Hebrews out of slavery failed?

How can Jethro – a man from Midian – be a priest?  Do you think we are meant to understand that he is a priest of the Living God, or is he ‘pagan’ priest of some kind? 

Why is it ironic that Moses called his son Gershom, saying ‘I have become an alien in a foreign land’?  What does this tell us about how Moses sees himself at this point in the narrative?  What lessons can we learn that might help us in our own experience of living as ‘aliens and strangers in the world’ (I Peter 2::11)?



Chapter 2 closes with a summary of the story so far.  The Israelites are still in slavery and are crying out to the LORD.  The LORD hears and remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This isn’t to say that it had somehow slipped his mind, but rather that He has recalled it with a view to act.  In fact, He is already acting.  He has taken Moses into the wilderness to prepare him for his task of leading the ancient Church out of slavery.  But it will take another generation… another 40 long years of slavery and suffering; another 40 years of God seeming not to answer the prayers of His people, as must have seemed the case for the last 3½ centuries.   Such is the furnace in which God first cast his people, and then drew them out, to be the people of His inheritance (Deut.4:20).  The stage is set…


[1] EndSalveryNow.org, see also e.g.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/lifestyle/modern-slavery-britain/ , http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/29/13000-slaves-uk-four-times-higher-previously-thought and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25048307 for other contemporary comments with a UK focus.

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