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?
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).