Key verse: Exodus 8:26
Big idea: To worship God, His people must go out.
One element of the Exodus that many people seem to miss is that Moses did not initially ask for Pharaoh to let the people free forever. Their request was to be allowed to go three days into the wilderness to worship God, a temporary reprieve from their labor. Pharaoh refused to allow them to leave at all initially, but after the first four plagues, he tried to propose a compromise: the Israelites could stop their work to worship, but needed to do so in the land. Moses explained that this would not work, because the sacrifices that the Israelites were going to make would be abominable to the Egyptians. Although Moses did not know for sure what the sacrifice would be (Exodus 10:26), perhaps many of the animals that Israelites sacrificed were worshipped by the Egyptians. Specifically, the Egyptians rejected the Israelites for being shepherds, so the sacrifice of sheep in particular might have been the issue (Genesis 46:34). Either way, the Israelites could not worship alongside the Egyptians. The things that were essential for one were unacceptable for the other.
As we read through the rest of Israel's history, we will find that when they enter the promised land, they try and worship alongside the Canaanites. The result is a fusion of the two, no more acceptable to God than a fusion of food and poison would be to you. Blending the worship of God with idols seems to recur throughout history, but at least at this date, Moses will not allow it. The Israelites must leave Egypt in order to worship God, and will, when they leave with haste after the tenth plague.
There is an echo of this in Isaiah 52, on the the Servant Songs that gradually transition from Israel as God's imperfect servant to Jesus as the perfect Servant Israel should have been. "The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; Go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD. For ye shall not go out with haste, Nor go by flight: For the LORD will go before you; And the God of Israel will be your rereward. Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, And his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; The kings shall shut their mouths at him: For that which had not been told them shall they see; And that which they had not heard shall they consider." When the final departure is made, there is no need for haste like leaving Egypt. The face of Jesus was marred beyond recognition as a human being, so we can live in joy and peace. This idea is picked up for us in 2 Corithians 7:17: we are called to go out from the way the world lives and not touch anything unclean, but to worship in Spirit and in truth. To worship God, we must go out from the idols of the world and follow His Word along.
Discussion idea: What are some things in the world that we must depart from to be obedient to God? For those who would be obedient to the world, what are some things God commands they would have to depart from?
Prayer focus: Thank God that Jesus, the perfect servant, was marred so He could sprinkle many nations, and call us out. A better Lamb than the Passover, taking us to a better home than the promised land of Canaan.
Key Verse: Hebrews 3:13
Big Idea: The Son of God gives us the other sons and daughters of God to encourage us.
This summer, I went on vacation with my family. We hiked in Chaco National Park and I had my hands on my kids as much as humanly possible, terrified they might fall into one of the kivas there (deep ceremonial pits). A few days later, we were at a city park in Durango and my son fell off the ladder and cut the back of his head open. I was afraid of a big danger, but did not take the more routine one seriously enough. I think there are similar principles in our spiritual lives. Many people are terrified about somehow accidentally taking the mark of the beast (an absurd idea) or of something terrible that will probably never happen. But there is something mundane which I believe ought to be much more frightening. Have you ever given much thought to how easy it is to harden your heart?
Something does not go my way, I throw a fit, and get a little harder. Someone does not act the way that I believe they should, I get self righteous, and get a little harder. Somehow I think my sin is not my fault, I try to justify myself, and get a little harder. It can happen in lots of ways but the result is the same: We get more vulnerable to sin, less dedicated to prayer, and further from God's will in our lives. Worse still, hardness leads to hardness. Like a callous that continues to get thicker because irritating it no longer hurts, the harder our hearts get, the easier it is for us to wander down heart-hardening paths. The harder we get, the less sensitive we are to the One who can heal us. The high-profile failures of ministry leaders may seem to be sudden, but I suspect that it is almost always the sudden collapse after years of gradual erosion. In Moses' day, hardness kept the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. They did not trust God when He spoke, and so they hardened their hearts against Him. Hardness led to hardness and they lost the opportunity to experience His rest.
Is there a solution? Does God give us any tools to avoid such a dangerous path? He does, but it might seem too simple to embrace. The vaccine against a hard heart is our local church. Not just Sunday services (although those are important, as we will see later in Hebrews), but being challenged and encouraged by our brothers and sisters daily. When I am weak, someone else in my church is strong and can help sustain me. When I am strong, someone else in my church is weak and needs me. We have to exhort each other today before the deceitfulness of sin can take root in our hearts. The high-profile ministry failures I mentioned above are often linked to a failure of this kind of accountability, and a lot of low-profile ministry failures are too. Discouragement and vulnerability to sin, when we lack the fellowship with and transparency to other believers, are a dangerous mix. The Christian life is too hard to live alone, so the Son of God gave us brothers and sisters.
Discussion Idea: Who is someone in your life that can encourage you or correct you when you get out of step with God?
Prayer Focus: It is easy for us to get defensive when confronted, instead of grateful. Pray that we will have humble hearts which will appreciate the loving hand of someone who loves us more than they love being liked by us.