When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” Joshua 5:13-14a
The stones are set and the Passover meal complete. It’s time to make the next move toward the promised land. But something unusual happens first. A mysterious man with a sword drawn comes into view. Joshua wants to know what side he is on; friend or foe?
The man answers, “No.” Wait, that doesn’t answer the question.
The man continues announcing himself as the commander of the army of the Lord. Immediately Joshua knows exactly who it is. The man wasn’t any ordinary man or even an angel, it was the Son of God – a preview of Jesus coming to earth.
Joshua reverently falls on his face in worship, asking “what does my Lord say to his servant?”
The man’s response, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”
Though the man didn’t respond with whose side He was on, Joshua knows whose side he is choosing to be on. He takes off his sandals acknowledging holy ground.
Joshua is about to embark on an enormous task and calling. God doesn’t let Him down. He meets with him and strengthens him with His presence. And it is holy ground. A holy experience. You too are walking on holy ground, invited into holy work.
Questions: Have you ever felt so close to God when you are carrying out an assignment or in the middle of a really tough season of life? What was your response? Perhaps the next time it happens, you can take off your shoes, drop to your knees, and thank God for what He is doing in your life.
…that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” Joshua 4:6-7
As the Israelites approach the Jordan River on their way to the promised land another miracle occurs. A flashback to forty years earlier when the generation before them escaped Egypt. The priests carrying the ark of the covenant walked up to the Jordan River… and they kept walking…on dry land. The waters were again parted to allow safe passage of the Israelites to the land God promised them.
A miracle and a reminder…of God’s past provisions and His continued presence.
God instructs them to take twelve large stones (one to represent each of the twelve tribes of Israel) from the dry ground they crossed beneath the Jordan River and lay them down at the place they lodge for the night. The stones are to be a forever memorial and reminder so that whenever their ancestors see the stones and ask about them, they can be told the story of when God allowed them to walk on dry land through the Jordan. To always remember the mighty hand of the Lord.
The people also had the first Passover Celebration in the new land on the plains of Jericho. A party of remembrance to celebrate their ancestors being spared when the angel of death passed over in Egypt. They ate of the produce of the land. From this day forward, the manna that had rained down from heaven every day for 40 years, ceased. What a day full of gratitude, hope, expectation, and good food!
Challenge: Like the stones from the bottom of the Jordan and the Passover ceremony, creating a mark of remembrance is a powerful thing. As time goes by, we tend to forget even big things we are grateful for. Think about a way you can honor and create a remembrance of God’s faithfulness.
And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. Joshua 2:1
Forty years separate the span of time between the initial spies scoping out the promised land and this moment. This time when the Israelites send in spies to assess the situation, they meet Rahab, a prostitute and citizen of Jericho. She lives in the city wall…and what a wall it is! Jericho, the initial land God tells them to conquer and take possession of, is a fortress with a mighty wall and iron gates.
Rahab fears this God of the Israelites she has heard rumors about, and at the risk of her own life, she hides the spies to help them succeed. She doesn’t have all the answers, but she believes this God is better.
She is rewarded for her faith and loyalty. The spies tell her to tie a scarlet cord from her window, and when they return to invade and destroy the city, anyone in her house will be spared from death.
The scarlet cord in her window was a sign of her faith. Like the lamb’s blood over the Israelites homes in Egypt when the angel of death passed over them and ultimately allowed them to be freed from their slavery, the blood-red cord hanging from Rahab’s window will save her and her family from the destruction that was to come to all of the homes in Jericho.
It is a glimpse into God’s plan to bring all people to Himself if they put their faith in His plan.
In the not too distant future, it will be the scarlet red blood of Jesus that saves us all.
Oh, and by the way…Rahab – the prostitute and non-Israelite who stepped out in faith and chose God over her cultural surroundings– is not only saved, but she will become part of the genealogy of Jesus!
Questions: How hard is it to believe in truth when everyone around you believes otherwise? Do you generally seek truth out, even if it is dangerous, or go with the flow of the world around you?
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
The deliverance from slavery in Egypt wasn’t the end itself…it was the beginning; it was to GO and ENJOY a better place. David Guzik says, “In our Christian life, we are BROUGHT OUT of sin so that we may be BROUGHT IN to abundant life.” The bringing out isn’t the end of the story. The wandering and the wilderness is not our intended destination. There is a good place prepared for us, but we have to GO IN to enjoy it. God provided in the wilderness. He was there with His people. But there was so much more for them. How often do we settle for wilderness living instead of stepping into the more abundant life God has for us? The going takes effort. But it is so worth it.
God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous and to be careful to follow the law given to the people by Moses. He tells Joshua to not turn from it and to meditate on it day and night. It is the secret sauce.
Why meditate on it day and night? I mean, he has heard about it for 40 years. He knows the law. But God knows we easily stray from doing what is right. He knows there will be temptations…even in the promised land. He knows that cultural pressures and day to day distance from God will turn us away from Him even when we don’t intend to.
We need to keep the Word of God close. We can’t get complacent thinking we know it and have things all under control. We need to regularly read and meditate on it.
God promised Joshua He would be with him always and God will be with us also. He knows many of these hard times and uncertain things ahead can make us frightened or dismayed. But God says we can be strong and courageous to get through our days, our trials, our callings because He is with us.
Question: What are some things you can do to get in a habit of consistently and persistently meditating on God’s Word?
And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:9-12
Remember Joshua? He was one of the 12 spies who tried to convince the Israelites they should trust God and not be too afraid to enter the promised land 40 years earlier. He is now the new leader with the charge of ushering the people into the land at last.
But first, a tribute to Moses. It feels as if no one can ever fill such big shoes. Moses knew God face to face. As God’s ambassador, he facilitated amazing signs and wonders in the Land. He was powerful and mighty; full of incredible deeds. Moses was a faithful servant of God to the end.
Joshua will be a great and mighty leader, but one is yet to come who will surpass them all.
Jesus will not only have a face to face relationship with God, He IS God. He will do great signs and wonders. He will be a humble servant of His Father and all of us who believe in Him, to the point of death.
But that will come later in our story. For now, we root Joshua and the new generation of Israelites on as they enter the promised land after 40 years of wandering in temporary dwellings.
Questions: Put yourself in Joshua’s place. How would you be feeling? Would you be nervous, intimidated, scared, excited? How must the Israelites be feeling as they approach the border of the land God promised them?
And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-Peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. Deuteronomy 34:4-7
Forty years pass for the wandering Israelites. It is time to enter the promised land at last. Moses gives a series of speeches and blessings to this group of people that have been under his leadership. He wants them to know and remember all that God commanded.
Because of an earlier act of disobedience on Moses’ part, he is not permitted to enter. It might seem a little harsh after all Moses has done (and all the grumbling people he dealt with for 40+ years!). Again, God is good and just and there are consequences for our actions. But keep this in mind, because we will see Moses again later in our study. For now, it is a special moment where God takes Moses to a mountain overlooking the promised land to see it before he dies and is buried by God.
Moses is 120 years old when he breathes his last breath. He may not be entering the earthly promised land with his fellow Israelites, but in his death, he enters the true and eternal promised land with his God. Moses loves God. He has walked faithfully with God. And now he is going to be face to face with God. It is time for someone else to take the reins and lead this unruly people.
Questions: Do you think it is unfair that Moses did not enter the promised land? Do you think Moses was upset about it or satisfied going to be with the God he faithfully followed? Reflect on how perspective can change how we view circumstances.
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord's release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. Deuteronomy 15:1-5
In Leviticus, God gave commands for the land. He instructed the Israelites to sow the fields, prune, and gather for six years, but in the seventh year, the land should have complete rest. The Israelites question this, but God assures them He will provide from the work they had done in the six years with enough to sustain them until the new crops from the 8th year of work are sown. It is another way for the Israelites to continue to step into obedience and trust God. Just as we are to trust God with the Sabbath command to do our work in six days and rest on the seventh.
God is a God of freedom. He doesn’t want His people in poverty or bondage. He says if they follow His commands there won’t be poor or enslaved among them. He doesn’t promise there will be no poverty, but He provides a way for it.
In this passage we see God make a way for freedom and provision, declaring a Shemittah (“to release”) year every seven years – a Sabbath, a year of rest and renewal -- where debts are canceled and servant workers set free. What joy as every seventh year rolls around. What freedom as the debt burdens are removed. Those formerly enslaved walk a little lighter, a little jump in their step. Freedom. A new start. But that doesn’t even come close to the freedom Jesus gave us when He paid for our debts on the cross. The heavy burden of guilt, shame, eternal punishment rolled off our shoulders and onto His. Freedom. A new start.
Question: Imagine a world where everyone obeyed God’s commands and there were no poor or in bondage among us. How would everything look different?
And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So, Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Numbers 21:8-9
The constant grumbling and sinning of the Israelites, despite God’s provisions, result in snakes prowling around…biting…killing. Imagine the terror with each strike as the poison makes its way through the bodies. Families, desperate for a way to keep loved ones alive, cry out to Moses to seek God on their behalf to remove the serpents.
The news quickly spreads that Moses is up to something. At God’s direction, he constructs a bronze snake and places it atop a wooden pole. Look to the pole, they say, to the snake on the top. Looking up will keep those bitten from death.
God doesn’t remove the dangerous serpents, but He does provide a way for the Israelites to live despite being bitten. They are to look to the wooden pole.
It is another foreshadowing of Jesus. Hundreds of years after this exchange, Jesus will hang on a wooden pole shedding blood for our grumblings and sins. When we are bitten by the temptation of sin – by the lure of the serpent, Satan – we can look up at Jesus on the cross.
When we look up to Jesus, we too can live, despite the poisonous bites of sin in our lives. Healing comes from the cross.
Questions: Where do you often look when you are bitten by temptation and sin? Do you immediately look up to the cross – to Jesus – and ask for forgiveness?
And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” Numbers 14:11-12
The Israelites chose not to listen to Caleb and Joshua. Instead, they freak out, grumble, and say they wish they were still in Egypt or dead in the wilderness. Really? They demand a new leader. Commentator David Guzik says, “This was pure rebellion. They said that they did not want God's plan, they did not want God's leaders, and they did not want God's land. They believed that they knew better than God.”
God is done with them, but Moses intercedes on their behalf. God answers Moses's prayer and agrees to let them live, but there will be consequences. No one above the age of 20 will enter the promised land, except Caleb and Joshua (the two spies that tried to encourage the people to enter). The people will wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until this adult generation who rejected the invitation to enter has passed away.
God has good things waiting for His people. It is right in front of them. But they choose to look at the obstacles instead of God’s provision and promise, and they miss out. It happens over and over. We will see it again when Jesus finally arrives. Many just can’t believe God. They are limited by what their feeble minds and eyes can see and understand. They choose fear over faith, and as a result, wander, unfulfilled and without purpose.
How often do we reject God’s plan, God’s appointed authority over us in a season, God’s calling…all because it seems hard or might be painful or we feel unequipped? What might we be missing out on because we are rebelling against God’s plans? How often do we delay the fulfillment of a beautiful calling because we are too afraid to enter when God tells us to? Let’s decide TODAY to choose faith in the Promise-keeper over the lies of the enemy!
Challenge: Spend some time this week quietly with God seeking things He might be wanting you to do. In our busy lives, we often don’t sit still long enough to hear from God. Ask Him for wisdom and for courage to do the things He wants you to do and go to the places He wants you to go.
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. Numbers 13:30-32
After about a year of traveling through the wilderness toward the promised land, the Israelites have arrived on the border. God instructs Moses to select men to spy out Canaan, the promised land. They are to pick a man from each tribe (remember the 12 tribes from the 12 sons of Jacob, aka Israel) to check out the land, the people living there, the food.
After 40 days of exploring, they return with a report. The land is amazing! The food is amazing! But… the city is fortified and the people are big.
Though all twelve spies saw the exact same things, only two of the twelve – Caleb and Joshua – choose faith over fear. They bravely try to convince the people to go for it. But fear wins out, as it often does.
A year of temporary living. A year of manna for sustenance. A year of God faithfully providing and keeping promises. A year of being unsettled nomads. They are finally at their promised destination, a plentiful land with food they have only dreamed about for a year; with space for permanent dwellings to raise their families. They stand at the edge of the promise of God… and they are too afraid to go in.
After all the miracles they have seen and all that God has done for them, they let fear keep them from entering and stepping into all that God has for them. God will ultimately keep His promise, but the consequences for letting unbelief triumph over faith will be devastating.
Questions: How often do you let fear keep you from stepping into something amazing God has prepared for you? Have you ever had to deal with the consequences of not doing something you knew you should do because of fear?
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21-22
Much is required to approach a holy God. It is not to be taken lightly. There are restrictions in place to approach the Ark and offer the sacrifices. A thick curtain separates the Ark from the tabernacle. Only the high priest can enter this space, called the holy of hollies, and only once a year. On the Day of Atonement (or “Yom Kippur”), the high priest brings two young goats and a bull to make a sacrifice offering on behalf of all the people. Blood is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Fitting that it is shed over the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the law is kept. The law that shows us what holiness looks like, but also that we can’t keep it on our own.
At God’s direction, one goat is sacrificed with the bull, and the other one is set free. The blood from the sacrificed goat and bull is sprinkled on God’s mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. The priest then puts his hands on the other goat and confesses the sins of the nation, transferring them onto the goat. The goat is brought deep into the wilderness and released with the sins of the people.
Two goats – payment for sin and removal of sin. Death and freedom.
For the Israelites, it becomes part of their customs and rituals. But it is temporary forgiveness and cleansing. It is a shadow of the sacrifice Jesus will come to offer. Not only does Jesus come to die on the cross to shed blood in payment for our sins, but He also transfers His righteousness to us. He takes our punishment AND sets us free. Free from guilt and condemnation. Free to approach a holy God.
Question: How do you see the work of Jesus in each goat – the sacrificed goat and the scapegoat set free?
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Leviticus 16:15
One part of the tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant. Think of the Ark as a chest. On top of the ark is a mercy seat flanked by two angels made of gold. Inside the ark are the tablets with the commandments (written by the hand of God and given to Moses), Aaron’s rod (likely the one used as part of trying to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go), and a pot of manna (the bread that rained down from heaven daily to provide nutrition for the Israelites while in the desert). A way to remember God’s commands, power, and provision.
This is where God will meet His people and where the sacrifices will be made for the forgiveness of sins.
A major theme of the book of Leviticus in the Bible is HOLINESS and being SET APART. God’s kingdom is different than the world, requiring acknowledgment and payment for sins, and then a turn toward holiness. But the law itself and our inability to follow it demonstrates our lack of holiness on our own. The temporary solution is a very intricate and detailed sacrificial system that is set in motion for the forgiveness of sins and giving thanks to God. Leviticus lays out a sort of priest handbook for oversight of the temple and these sacrifices.
But they are never enough. Sacrifices have to be made year after year… UNTIL Jesus comes and becomes the final and perfect sacrifice of bloodshed for sin and reconciliation.
Questions: Why was it important for God’s people to be set apart? Often God will ask the Israelites to build something or save something or do something to help them remember important events and truths about who He is. What are some things you have created or saved to help you remember something special?
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. Exodus 25:8-9
God is a God of order and purpose and details. Part of the instructions God gives the Israelites through Moses has to do with a place for God to dwell, or live, with His people.
He gives very specific and detailed instructions for how the tabernacle – His dwelling place with them – should be built and maintained. Directions are given for an Ark of the Covenant (more on this coming up), table for bread, a golden lampstand, the tabernacle construction, the bronze altar, the court of the tabernacle, oil for the lamp, the priests garments and how they should prepare to enter the tabernacle, the altar of incense, giving, the maintenance of the tabernacle, bronze basin, anointing oil and incense.
Prior to sin entering the world and creating separation between man and God, Adam and Eve physically DWELT with God. The Bible is God’s story of bringing us back to this state.
This portable tabernacle is a scaled-down version of a more permanent temple that is to come many years later in Jerusalem where God will also DWELL with His people. But something better will come after that… God will come in the flesh to DWELL with humanity for 30 years, and upon His resurrection, He will send the Holy Spirit to DWELL inside all of us who believe.
But it gets even better… one day in the future, those who put their faith and hope in Jesus will DWELL once again with God forever.
Challenge: Take time this week to just DWELL with God.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Exodus 32:1
While Moses was up on the mountain receiving instructions and even tablets written by the hand of God, the people get anxious because it was taking too long (40 days). They quickly write Moses off and demand man-made idols to worship and guide them. Only forty days! We were created to worship God, but how quickly we search for anything else to worship and follow.
It’s tempting to think if we were only witnesses to the Incredible miracles the Israelites – and later those walking with Jesus – were part of, we would surely believe and never doubt. But the Israelites show us this is not the case.
Life happens. Things don’t go smoothly or according to our ideas of how it should all go down. Fear and anxiety consume us. Everything. Takes. Too. Long. We start to doubt. We stop waiting on God…. we can’t endure the delay…we can’t take the silence…we go back to trying to fix things on our own. We essentially fashion our own false idols to worship, put our hope in, and follow.
“Remember delays are not denials. Sometimes it may be just a timing issue. God’s timing is always perfect. Wait on God in times of delay. It may be that God has something better just a little later down the road.” Ron Parker.
Even in the delays, wait on the Lord. He is a good, good Father. It’s who He is. And you are loved by Him. It’s who you are. He’s worth the waiting.
Questions: What are some of your big doubt triggers (trials, delays, bumps in the road…)? In times of doubt who/what do you turn to instead of God?
And God spoke all these words, saying… Exodus 20:1
While the people are looking on amidst roaring thunder, flashes of lightning, booming trumpets, and a smoking mountain, God speaks to Moses. He gives His people commandments about how to live along with instructions about altars, slaves, restitution, social justice, Sabbath, festivals, and more. He confirms the covenant and tells of a land set apart for them.
Among the directives, God lays out ten specific commandments. A way to teach these people who only knew slavery how to live as free people set apart by a holy God, reflecting His nature and glory.
You shall have no other gods before God. You shall make no idols. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Keep the Sabbath day holy. Honor our father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet.
When Jesus walks the earth long after these commands are given, He summarizes them as LOVE GOD & LOVE OTHERS. We can even look at the commandments themselves as pointing to the cross, with the first four being the vertical anchor, representing our relationship with God, and the next six being horizontal, representing our relationship with each other.
The commandments and laws are a picture of obedient, holy, right living. Here’s the problem: we can’t keep them. The laws ultimately serve to show us there is no way we can ever be “good enough” for a Holy God. We can’t save ourselves. And that is part of the plan. We weren’t intended to save ourselves…but we need to understand this fact.
John Piper says we must see our plight before we can recognize the rescue. The law reveals our plight. Jesus is our rescuer.
Thankfully the laws aren’t a requirement for our salvation. He is the requirement for salvation. God sent Jesus to do what we couldn’t do.
Challenge: Fully acknowledge the depth of God’s mercy and grace. Examine each of the 10 commandments and thank Jesus for how He has saved you from your personal and specific failures in each one.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” Exodus 16:4-5
On this journey of freedom, God will be the provision, this time providing bread from Heaven…bread to keep His people alive. Another glimpse into the person of Jesus who comes and teaches that He is the bread of life.
Manna - bread from heaven – rains down daily providing just what the millions of Israelites need for that day. They are only to gather what they need for their household – no more and no less. Each portion is different based on the different needs, but it is precisely what each family needs. They were not permitted to gather more to store up for later. At the end of the day, it would rot. They had to daily trust God to provide what they needed for the day. And this went on the entire 40 years they were in the wilderness.
God provides us with “manna” too in the form of giving us what we need for the day. He will provide all of the strength, power, wisdom, courage we need for the daily tasks He has called us to. He gives us the precise portion we need precisely when we need it – no sooner and no later. We have to trust Him and as we daily gather what He provides for each day.
We can easily get fearful and overwhelmed when we look ahead to the scary and unknown, wanting to store up what we think we might need in advance. But we have to trust that God will give us what we need when we need it. Our DAILY bread. We may not feel brave, strong, or equipped as we look to the future or fret over what-ifs, but that is because it isn’t our time yet. We can’t collect that portion of manna until the day comes that we need it.
Questions: Do you often worry about the future, desperate to be equipped today for all of the what-ifs of tomorrow? How can you take the lesson of manna to help not be so anxious or afraid?
And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:13-14
Finally, freedom! Moses leads the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt with God as their guide. But Pharaoh has a moment of panic realizing his entire free labor force had left. He sends large and powerful armies to pursue them. The Israelites see them getting closer and closer and are filled with fear. Terrified, they say they would prefer to be back in Egypt. Back to slavery and mistreatment.
How quickly we forget? How quickly we prefer the destructive known to the promising unknown? Fear distorts and blinds truth. Fear keeps us locked on our circumstances instead of God’s promises. Fear fixes our eyes behind us instead of looking up and out.
“The Lord will fight for you,” Moses declares. Just be still.
God through Moses parts the Red Sea and the entire Israelite population (several million!) walk on dry land to the other side. The astonished Israelite’s watch as the water closes in on all the Egyptians pursuing them. God provided as He promised.
Moses and the people sing a song of praise and worship to God. But it only takes three days on the other side for the grumbling to begin again. This time they are thirsty. God directs Moses to throw a log into the water, making it sweet and drinkable. Another miraculous provision.
God wants His people to KNOW that they need Him and that He WILL provide. In all of our fear and worry and limitations, God says, “Be still. You’re not supposed to have this. I will fight this one for you. I’ve got this.”
Questions: Have you ever settled for the destructive known instead of pursuing a promise in unknown territory? How have you seen God fight for you?
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22
The Israelites had been in Egypt for many years. Though they were oppressed, it was still their home. It was all that they knew.
God provided a special tour guide to take them out of Egypt…Himself!
In a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, God says, FOLLOW ME. Later God will arrive on earth in human flesh and say, FOLLOW ME.
The newly freed Israelites that knew only slave life in Egypt could be sure of where they were going because they were following God. We too can be sure of where we are going if we follow God.
When I feel lost in unfamiliar territory or have a big decision ahead of me, I often wish God would show up in a pillar of cloud or fire showing me exactly which way I should go. Though this will undoubtedly never happen for us, we do have the Holy Spirit in us and we have God’s Word. We can open our Bible and pray for God to give us wisdom and to show us the way. He wants to be our tour guide. If we are following His path, we can always know we are on the right track, even if we feel a little lost in the moment.
Questions: Who do you turn to when you feel lost or uncertain? How can you make it a habit to turn to God first for direction?
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:11-13
God reveals the tenth plague; the final warning to Pharaoh of what will happen if he refuses to release the Israelites from slavery to freedom: every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die. God tells Moses that Pharaoh won’t listen. His heart is hardened, but through it, God’s wonders will be multiplied.
God instructs the Israelites to take and kill a male lamb without blemish. They are to take blood from the slain lamb and put it on the doorposts around their houses. The blood of the lamb, marking them as God’s people, will save them.
As promised, the angel of death shows up. All firstborn sons – including livestock – are struck dead. But all the houses with the blood over the doorposts are passed over. You better believe Pharaoh lets them go. And not only that, he sends them on their way with gifts …gold, silver, clothing. God provides for their journey.
A Passover celebration is instituted annually to remember this incredible event. A celebration that many years later Jesus participates in as part of His last meal with His disciples before He becomes the ultimate lamb without blemish sacrificed to save us all.
Passover is a taste of what is to come. We are hopeless in our mess and pride and disobedience, but God provides a way out for us. God loves us so much, He wants to save us from the death and destruction that is sure to come when we dig in our heels, harden our hearts, and insist on doing things our own way. He wants us to be “passed over” from death and instead have eternal life with Him. He knows it will require a sacrifice and He is willing to provide that sacrifice for us. God’s plan for a Savior continues to unfold.
Question: In what ways do you see Jesus in the Passover story?
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Exodus 3:13-15
For the Israelites in Egypt, things are getting increasingly worse. God hears the cries of His people. And He has just the man to step in as His hands and feet. God appears to Moses in the burning bush, telling him that he is the one to lead His people out of Egypt.
Moses reluctantly obeys and sets out for Egypt, his original home. God intends to bring His people back to the promised land as He said He would long ago. He desires for them to be free from their slavery. But it is going to take some persuasion for the Egyptians to let their free labor go.
God has a plan though. God always has a plan.
As you can imagine, Pharaoh isn’t going to give in easily to losing the people doing all the work in the land as slaves. But God has plagues in store to help with that. The first nine plagues are a disaster for the people in Egypt (while not impacting the Israelites). Each is preceded with warnings to let God’s people go to avoid the plagues…the water is turned to blood, frogs literally everywhere, gnats in all the land, swarms of flies, death of livestock, boils breaking out on man and beast, heavy hail, locusts covering the face of the land, complete darkness for three days.'
Pharaoh is stubborn. He won’t let them go. The tenth plague will be devastating. They have been warned.
Questions: What do you think keeps us clinging to things that fight against God? Are there things God is telling you to let go of that you keep hanging on to?
Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. Exodus 2:1-3
Joseph’s family was thriving and growing in Egypt. But as years pass and new leaders came into power, the Israelites (Jacob’s, aka Israel’s, descendants), large in number by this time, become a threat to Egypt. To try to control their growth and power, the Egyptians make them slaves, subject to hard labor and oppression. And there is an order to kill all Hebrew (another name for the Israelites, or Jewish people) baby boys born.
But God has a plan for one of them in particular...A baby boy– Moses –from the tribe of Levi, Leah and Jacob’s third son.
The Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and adopts him. Moses is an Israelite but raised as an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Slavery to royalty.
At one point when he is older, he becomes angry about the mistreatment of his Israelite people and kills an Egyptian in the process. This leads to him fleeing to Midian to escape punishment. He starts a new life, eventually marrying and having a child there.
For forty years Moses lives in the wilderness area of Midian.
We will see that the events in Moses’ life are perfectly preparing him for the calling He will soon get from God. He grew up in the house of Pharaoh but learned to live and thrive in the wilderness. Two things that will soon come in handy. God is always working, even when we can’t see it.
Questions: Think of some things you are currently learning or doing, or some places you are finding yourself. How can these things be preparing you for something you might do in the future as part of God’s plan? How does it change your perception of circumstances knowing that God might be using them to prepare you for something bigger and beyond your imagination?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Another promise in the Bible is that God can work all things for good for those who love God and are in line with His purposes.
Life is full of hard circumstances and seasons. Not all things are good in themselves…death, illness, heartbreak. But God is able to use all circumstances and make something beautiful out of them.
There’s a condition to this promise: it is for those who love God, and it is to further His purposes and plans. And when we truly love God, we want what He wants. We want His plans to prevail, even if they might look different than what we think or hope at the time.
This promise is not to make our life easy and comfortable, but to transform us; to make us holy.
We see this in the life of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own family and then falsely accused and thrown in prison for years. His life was not easy. But God was working in him and the circumstances around him. God was orchestrating everything to put Joseph in a position to become a leader and to bring his family to Egypt.
Similarly, the life of Jesus – as we will discover journeying through the Bible – was not easy. But through it all, God was orchestrating events that resulted in our brokenness being redeemed and restored.
We can have peace in knowing that our job is to love God and seek His will. Any mistakes we make along the way, sins we can’t shake, terrible circumstances we find ourselves in regardless of the cause…all of it can be used by Him for a bigger and better purpose when we shake our desire for comfort and control and walk in obedience to His call. Holy is birthed from the hard.
Question: Have you experienced trials that seemed hopeless and unredeemable at the time ultimately have a God-sized positive outcome?
His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:18-20
From prison in Egypt, Joseph (with God’s provision) interprets the Pharaoh’s dream. He tells him there will be a time of plenty, followed by a time of famine. He suggests they store up food during the time of plenty to get through the famine. Joseph eventually becomes second in command over all of Egypt, the most powerful nation at the time.
Things happen just as Joseph interpreted. When famine also reaches Joseph’s family, his brothers travel to Egypt to purchase some of the stored supplies. They have no idea Joseph is still alive, much less in such a prominent position. They are ultimately reunited and Joseph’s family all move to Egypt where they will be taken care of during the famine. The brothers fear Joseph though. They assume that he would surely want revenge like they would, especially after their father (Jacob) dies.
After all that Joseph had been through – hardships and successes – his faith is unwavering. He recognizes God’s hand in all of it. He intends to bless, not seek revenge. His brothers may have meant their treatment of him for evil, but God meant it for good. Joseph landed in a position to save all of Egypt and his family.
So this is how the Israelites (remember Jacob was renamed Israel) came to live in Egypt. They flourish under the protection of Joseph. They grew in numbers as God promised long ago.
We are still a long way off from the arrival of the Messiah, but we get a glimpse here of something to come…something meant for evil against Jesus – his death on a cross – bringing about so much good.
Challenge: Like Joseph, we too will have unfair and even evil things done to us in our lives. Memorize Genesis 50:20 to remember that God can use even these things for His good purposes. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” Genesis 50:20 (NLT)
They [Joseph’s brothers] saw him [Joseph] from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” Genesis 37:18-20
Remember Joseph, the firstborn son of Rachel (the wife Jacob loved)? Jacob loved Joseph more than the others and didn’t do much to hide it. Probably not a candidate for dad of the year! Jacob gives Joseph this amazing colorful coat. The jealousy and tension that started among Jacob and Esau, and then among these boys’ mothers, continues among the twelve sons. Left unchecked, sin will always grow and spread.
The other sons hate Joseph because he was the favorite. To make it worse, Joseph has two dreams that basically say one day they will all bow down to him. And Joseph tells them, adding to their brewing hatred of him. The brothers want to kill him, but instead, sell him to some men traveling through the land. They let their grieving father think he was eaten by a wild animal. Jacob is devastated.
It turns out Joseph is ultimately sold to an important official in Egypt. Joseph is a man of incredible character, integrity, and faith in God. Potiphar (the Egyptian official) puts his entire household under Joseph’s management.
Things are going great until Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph, but full of integrity, he refuses her. She is furious and accuses him of attacking her, which lands Joseph in prison. Despite his circumstances, Joseph remains faithful in prison and there he again gains the trust and respect of the prison guards.
It is a roller coaster of blessings and trials, but through it all – even in prison unjustly – Joseph remains full of faith in God. He never waivers.
Question: How hard is it to stay faithful to doing the right thing when everything around you seems to be falling apart, especially when it is because of other people’s bad decisions?
And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Genesis 32:24-28
The time finally arrives for Jacob to head back home. He has worked hard for Laban and both men are wealthy with much livestock.
Remember Jacob’s encounter with God on his way to Laban’s house (the ladder dream)? Well, years later Jacob has another encounter with God while traveling with his four wives (Leah, Rachel, and the two servants), twelve sons, daughters, and livestock back home from Laban’s house.
Jacob is scared out of his mind of Esau, the brother whose birthright he stole and fled from 20 years ago. Jacob sends everyone ahead in separate groups with gifts to appease Esau if and when they meet him along the way. While alone, Jacob has another more intimate and intense encounter with God.
Jacob wrestles with God! God asks Jacob his name. A chance to redeem himself…no longer pretending to be Esau to steal the blessing God already intended him to have. God blesses him, but Jacob is forever scared with a limp. A reminder of his encounter with God with every step he takes.
Jacob thought his biggest threat was his brother, but it was himself. David Guzik says, ‘before Jacob could be delivered from the hand of his brother, he had to be delivered from his own self-will and self-reliance.” In losing the battle, Jacob gains the blessing…and a new name. No longer Jacob the deceiver, now he is to be called Israel.
Questions: Do you have a “limp” – a reminder – from an encounter with God in your life? If God were to change your name based on an experience or promise, what would your new name be?