Key verse: Exodus 11:6
Big idea: Because Israel cried out for mercy, Egypt cried out in agony.
Some doctrines are hard., and there is probably none harder than the doctrine of divine judgment. We know that God is love and that His mercy is everlasting. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved and the Lord is not willing that any should perish. But some do perish, and Jesus could say unflinchingly that it would be better for some of them to have never been born than to face the fate they have earned (Matthew 26:24, see also Matthew 18:6). Further, God calls us to turn the other cheek and be merciful to those who sin against us. How does that reconcile with the idea of hellfire and damnation?
That is too complicated of a question for these few hundred words, but part of the answer is that they are not in contradiction, but different sides of the same coin. God's love of His people is manifested by His hatred of those things that hurt them. His love is given context by the demands of His holiness, and the cost which He paid to bring us into harmony with Him. Because God loved Israel He hated the oppression that included centuries of slavery and the drowning of countless baby boys. He responded to Israel's cry for help with a judgment on Egypt that made them cry out in pain. We can turn the other cheek and always show mercy because God will judge. Romans 12:19 puts it this way: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." We can refrain from personal vengeance because we can trust that ultimately, the wicked either repent or are judged, and only God is qualified to tell the difference.
So, at the end of God's assault on the false gods of Egypt, He struck at the chief idol: mankind. Our idol worship is ultimately self-worship and their deification of Pharaoh was a clear example of what all people throughout history have been doing. The nation was judged for its enslavement and mistreatment of the Israelites, from those directly involved (like Pharaoh) down to those who were not ("the maidservant that is behind the mill") and even the animals. All of the Israelites were freed unharmed, without so much as a dog growling at them. The two cries were carried out so that it would be clear that God makes a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians: between those who have faith and those who do not. We can ignore the cries of those we sin against, and later cry out at our judgment. Or we can recognize our sin now, and cry out for mercy.
Discussion idea: Is the idea of Hell harder or easier for you to think through than physical judgments like the tenth plague or the flood? Why?
Prayer focus: God, help me to cry out to you for mercy when I sin, and tune my ears to the cries of the hurting and the oppressed.
Key Verse: Hebrews 4:14
Big Idea: We can rest in the perfect work of the Son of God.
Rest runs through the Bible. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day, He rested on His throne: His work completed. Much later, He called out His people Israel from slavery in Egypt and gave them 10 commandments, one of which was to rest on the seventh day. When they finally entered the Promised Land, Joshua extended the hope of rest. Yet, in David’s day, the promise of rest was still offered for those who would not harden their hearts. Rest was something more than not working one day a week (as if God had been tired after creating the world) or of having an end of war. The rest that God really offers was something deeper, rooted in a more profound peace.
When God rested at the end of the creation week, it was because His work was all accomplished. He ceased from His labor and sat on His throne - He had completed what needed to be done. When the Israelites rested on the Sabbath day, they were not copying God, but trusting Him. If the maker of Heaven and Earth still sits on the throne, then I can go to sleep at night or take a day off from my labor, because He still reigns. Despite what some pastors or church members seem to think, rest is not a “four letter word.” We can take a day or a week off because God is still working, even when we are still. Constant busyness is a form of idolatry, and the thin veneer of faith when the busyness is for God does not cleanse it. When Joshua offered rest to the Israelites, or when David warned them about hardening their hearts, it was not a promise of ending all fighting, but an offer to recognize that God would fight their battles - if they would let Him. We need to take that same offer.
Today, we have a supernatural rest. Our enemies (sin and death) have been defeated, and the work is already done. There is no need for us to scurry around, trying to earn God’s love. Instead, we have the incredible rest of knowing that the Son of God meant it when He said “It is finished!” One day, when Jesus returns, we will have full rest when sin, pain, and death are vanquished once and for all, but even now, we experience it spiritually. If we accept it in faith, today there is a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
Discussion Idea: What are some ways we try to earn God’s favor? Why do we try to do that? Do you see that in any other area of your life?
Prayer Focus: Pray that God will give us the faith to rest in the work Jesus finished when He died for us and rose again.