March, 2018

The Bible – Book by Book – Exodus

This is the second in our period series in which we cover the content and themes of the books of the Bible.

The book of Exodus derives its English name from the Greek word exodos which means “exit” or “departure.” This is the central event and theme of the book. The exit of Israel from their slavery in Egypt is recorded in the first 15 chapters of the book. The Hebrew title of the book is Shemot, which is taken from the first words of the book, “These are the names.” This opening line connects the story of Exodus with the closing of the book of Genesis. As Jacob and Joseph die in Genesis 49-50, a record of the names of the descendants of Jacob who inhabited the land of Egypt is detailed.

The author of this book is Moses. Jesus calls Exodus the “the book of Moses” in Mark 12:26. There are no compelling reasons to doubt the Mosaic authorship of Exodus. Moses, the author of the whole Pentateuch (Gen. – Deut.), records the ongoing unfolding of God’s covenantal promise to Israel. This book records the radical change of situation for the people of Israel when “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exo. 1:8). This new king would oppress Israel and the need for a redeemer of Israel became acute. Moses would be that redeemer.

This first cry for help from the people suffering under Egyptian oppression is heard by God. God faithfully remembers his covenant with Israel and calls on Moses to deliver them. Through a series of ten plagues, Moses pleads with Pharaoh to release his people. But Pharaoh’s heart has been hardened. He will not let the people go. The tenth and final plague to befall the people of Egypt is the Passover. All of Israel was instructed to prepare for this plague by killing a lamb and spreading its blood on the doorposts. When the Lord passed over the land, every home that was under the blood of the lamb was spared, but every home without the blood saw the death of the firstborn. Through this vicarious shedding of blood, the people of Israel were released from their bondage and slavery. Israel left Egypt but Pharaoh’s heart was again hardened and he pursued the people all the way to the Red Sea. At the Red Sea, the Lord miraculously parted the waters and Israel passed through on dry ground. When Egypt tried to follow, their chariot wheels were mired in mud and the walls of water came crashing down. “The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone” (Exo. 15:5).

The next stage in the exodus of the people from Egypt was their time in the wilderness. God had delivered his people. Now God would lead his people. He provided food and water for the people. Water from the rock and manna from heaven provided for the needs of the people.

The next few chapters (19-24) detail how God covenants with his people. Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives the Law from God. Chapter 20 details the Ten Commandments as a standard for living in covenant community with God. This law reveals God’s holy nature. It reveals the requirements of the people among whom God will dwell. It reveals the people’s need for a greater Redeemer than Moses.

The rest of the book of Exodus explains how God is worshiped by his people. The pattern for the worship of God is detailed. Then Israel’s rebellion against God’s holy instructions prompts God’s holy wrath to be poured out on the people. But Moses intercedes on behalf of the people and God renews his covenant with the people. The rest of the book shows how the Tabernacle, the furnishings, and the courtyard were assembled. The Tabernacle is then raised and the book closes with God’s glory resting on the tent of the meeting.

The book of Exodus not only records major historical events in the life of Israel. It also presents major redemptive elements that will be developed throughout the rest of the Scriptures. God’s redemptive work through a redeemer, his judgment over evil, his adoption and provision for his children, and the establishment of his dwelling place among the people are major themes that will find their fulfillment in Christ and in the Second Coming (see, Eph. 2:14-22, Rev. 20:11-22:5). The symbols of Exodus are brought to their fullness in the New Testament. Much of the book of Exodus ends up serving as a shadow to the realities found in Christ. The sprinkled blood of the Passover lamb is fulfilled in Christ (John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7). Jesus spoke of his “exodus” from Jerusalem which would bring salvation to the people (Luke 9:31). Exodus presents the story of Moses that is then carried forward to the “greater Moses” that we find in Christ (Heb. 3). The book of Exodus lays a foundational hope in the redemptive power of God that is fulfilled once and for all in Christ.

 

The Bible – Book by Book – Genesis

Periodically and over the next several years, we are going to use this space to provide for you brief surveys and overviews of each of the books of the Bible.

The name of the book of Genesis is derived from the opening words of the book. The Hebrew title of the book is Bereshith, which means “In the beginning.” The Greek title, Genesis is based on this and means “origin.” Both titles speak to the opening content of the book, namely the beginning of history.

The book is technically anonymous, but it is part of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) which is properly attributed to Moses. The New Testament also hints at Moses’ authorship of Genesis in John 7:22 and Acts 15:1 when it speaks of circumcision being given by Moses. The sign of circumcision given in Genesis 17.

The book of Genesis can roughly be divided into two sections. There is the Primeval History (Gen. 1-11) which is followed by the History of the Patriarchs (12-50). The first part covers the creation of all things in the span of six days. It details broadly in chapter 1 and then with more specificity in chapter 2 the creation of man and woman. The Primeval History then moves to the Fall of mankind and the progression of sin throughout the world. The effects of sin reach a crescendo in chapters 6-9 with the Flood and God’s redemption of mankind through Noah. After the flood, the population is rebuilt and spreads abroad on the earth.

The second section of Genesis details the history of Abraham and his descendants. God calls Abraham to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:1-2). Abraham follows this call and enters into a covenant with God. This covenant is a promise that God will be his God and Abraham will be God’s people. This promise is made with Abraham and his offspring after him throughout the generations for an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:7).

God blesses Abraham with the birth of a son, Isaac. Just as God had appeared to Abraham, he appears to Isaac. The promises of the covenant to Abraham are repeated for Isaac (Gen. 26:1-6). God promises to Isaac that, “I will be with you” (Gen. 26:3). This promise is then repeated to Isaac’s son, Jacob (Gen. 35:11, 12). God remains faithful to his covenant promises as they pass through the offspring of Abraham.

Jacob has twelve sons. Through their mischief and deceit, their younger brother Joseph ends up in Egypt. Eventually, famine brings the sons of Jacob to Egypt looking for help. In Egypt, they find their long-lost brother, Joseph, who is now the right-hand man of Pharaoh. Joseph saves his family by bringing them to Egypt. They settle in the land of Goshen, where the twelve sons of Jacob prosper. The book ends with Jacob and Joseph’s deaths in Egypt but with a promise that their bones would be carried up out of the land.

The book of Genesis introduces us to three critical themes that run throughout the whole of the Scriptures: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. The opening verses of Genesis lay out the creative work of God. God spoke and everything came into being. God demonstrates his primacy, his power, and his providence in creation. The creation account is fundamentally about God, not the creation. God created man in his image (imago dei). God is to reflect this image in what he does. He is to subdue creation, fill creation, and rest.

But a problem enters into this creation. Man falls into sin (Gen. 3). The serpent tempts the woman, and man falls into sin. The serpent twists and distorts God’s Word. He provokes the pride and fear of man. And man takes of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and eats. At this rebellion of God’s Word, sin enters into creation. Death, disease, and decay are not part of creation. Every atom of creation is affected by this rebellion. Things are no longer the way they should be. From now on the history of man will always be punctuated with “…and he died.”

The Lord is gracious and merciful. A word of prophecy is spoken in the midst of the curses of sin. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). There is a battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of woman. This seed of the woman is promised Messiah. He will strike a mortal blow to the head of the serpent, but in doing so, he will receive a blow to his heel. Thus, God promises a Redeemer to crush the enemy. The rest of the Bible begins to unfold this promised Redemption. God’s covenant with Abraham becomes the vehicle for his redemptive blessing to the nation. The blessing of Jacob on his son Judah is that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah” (Gen. 49:10), meaning that God’s promised Messiah will come through the line of Judah.

This creation, fall, redemption theme finds its consummation in Revelation. A new heaven and new earth with a Tree of Life are described (Rev. 22:1-5). The defeat and judgment of Satan is finalized with his being cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1-10). And people of God worship Christ as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 7:9-10). A glorious wedding feast is portrayed as the consummation of the story of Genesis that started with “in the beginning.”

All the Nations

Working with a large evangelical parachurch ministry in college and after college, I often heard talks and sermons about God’s heart for the nations. The plan of the Gospel is a global plan. I listened to so many inspiring messages that encouraged me to be radical and risk it all for the Gospel. I wanted to charge the gates of Hell with a squirt gun. There is so much truth to this.

If you read through the Bible, you will see from Genesis to Revelation that God’s heart is for all nations. The scattering of the nations at Babel (Gen. 11) is symbolically reversed in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). The promise made to Abraham (Gen 12) is that not only Abraham’s family, but “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The prophecy given to Isaiah was that God’s coming Servant would be a “light for the nations” (Isa. 42:6). The promise is that “the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations” (Isa 62:2). Jeremiah was appointed to be a prophet “to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). The Gospels proclaim that the nations will be gathered together before Christ (Matt. 25:32). The house of the Lord will be a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17). And the consummated vision of eternity is of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” (Rev 7:9, 10). I dare say, if you went through your Bible from cover to cover highlighting every passage that deals with God calling the nations to repentance and faith in Christ, you’d run out of highlighter before you’d run out of Bible. The call of the Gospel is a global call.

This should motivate us to be involved with the global call of the Gospel. It is a central and crucial theme to the whole of the Scriptures. There is clearly an obligation for every Christian to be involved in the global mission of the Gospel. But how is the average Christian supposed to respond to this obligation? Is everyone supposed to go? Is everyone supposed to travel to the farthest corners of the globe to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard? Or can you be a faithful Christian without actually going? What role should we play in global preaching of the Gospel?

Jesus gives us some answers at the end of Luke’s Gospel. After the resurrection Jesus appears to his disciples and explains from the whole of the Scriptures that his life, death, and resurrection was the point of the Scriptures. He explains that repentance of sin and faith in Christ is necessary for redemption. He also explained that the scope of this Gospel message is to go to “all nations” (Luke 24:47). Every land. Every nation. Every place. Every people. None are exempted from the obligation to repent and believe. None are excluded from the inestimable benefits of Jesus Christ.

But the scope of this message is bigger than any person. How does the average Christian mom, high school student, or businessman respond to this call? Along with the message and the scope of the Gospel, Jesus also explains the power of the Gospel. “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you” (Luke 24:49). The promise of the Father is granted to believers in the giving of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian is empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit. The very presence of God dwells within every believer. This power means that you have ability to share this message right now. And Jesus instructs that empowered with the Holy Spirit and equipped with the message of the Gospel, you can begin to reach the world by starting where you are right now. He tells the disciples, “beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). They were to just start where they were.

Don’t let the scope of the promise of the Gospel intimidate you. There will be those who tell you that you must be radical. You must model the path of the apostle Paul. You should be the next William Carey or CT Studd. You don’t. Jesus gives us a message. He gives us the power. And then he tells us to start where we are. Look at where you are right now. Look at your present circumstances. Take the first step. Share the message of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit where you are. Teach your kids. Talk with classmates. Share with your colleagues. Take one step. If God is calling you to go to the farthest corners of the world, he’ll direct your steps that way. We earnestly pray that some of our covenant children will. But most of you will not be led that way. So instead of crumbling under the weight of being some super apostle, take one step and be faithful.

Staying A Move Ahead

Both in my preparation for starting the book of Joshua and in my daily Bible reading, I have spent a good bit of time looking at the life of Moses and the Exodus. This is one of the central stories in Redemptive History. And this particular story reaches a climax in Exodus 14 with the crossing of the Red Sea. When we look at God’s unfolding story of redemption, this event looms large. It is foreshadowed in Moses’ birth narrative, where life is brought through the waters. It is foreshadowed in Noah, where death comes to all those at enmity with God, but through the water, there is redemption. The Red Sea itself foreshadows God’s redeeming grace in Christ, where those who repent and believe in him are brought through the waters of baptism into new life. Those who are at enmity with God, those who reject him as Lord, are cut off from the living. This is a thread that is woven into the story of God’s redemption for his people. I love this story.

The deliverance at the Red Sea shows how God is sovereignly ordaining all things that come to pass. God is the grand master chess player. One summer we led a group of college students to do evangelism in Russia. We hosted an English Camp in a remote area with Russian college students. One of the Russian students was studying to be a Grand Master in chess. I thought I’d challenge him to a match. This is like telling a professional boxer, “Hey, how hard can you hit me?”

The student was kind but devastatingly good. Every time I attempted to move my chess piece, he would nod disapprovingly. I would then change my mind and start to move another piece. He would shake his head no. This went on until I eventually found the right piece. Then I would move. Then he moved. And we repeated this until he captured my king. Essentially, he was playing himself through me. There was one time that I made a move and he said, “Oh, I did not see that move. That was very good. Now I will take your bishop.” He was always several moves ahead of me.

In Exodus 14, the Lord tells Moses to leave Egypt via a circuitous route. The reason? Pharaoh will see where you are going and think you’re lost and wandering in the wilderness. Then the Lord says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart and set a trap for him. The Israelites obeyed God’s instruction. And Pharaoh saw them wandering. His heart was hardened. And Pharaoh changed his mind. He would not let the people go. Pharaoh launches the full force of his military (probably the greatest military power on the planet at that time) against the Israelites. The trap was set.

But the Israelites saw Pharaoh coming and panicked. They didn’t trust God. Perhaps they had forgotten all the plagues the Lord had unleashed on Egypt. Perhaps they had forgotten how the Lord provided for them when they plundered Egypt. Perhaps they had forgotten all the things Moses had told them. They obviously had problems with their memory, because what they did remember was not the truth. “They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’” (Exod. 14:11, 12). Their failure of memory would be laughable if it were not so sad. Think about it, what is Egypt most known for? The pyramids. What are the pyramids? They are big elaborate tombs. Who built those tombs? The Israelites. I think Moses is well aware of the tombs in Egypt. And the people did not say, “let us serve the Egyptians.” In fact, “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God” (Exod. 2:23). The people panicked because they didn’t believe God was a move ahead of them.

Their fear is misplaced because God is maneuvering the pieces of the chess board according to his plan. They panic because they “lift up their eyes” and only see the Egyptians. Moses reminds them that God is sovereignly ordaining all these events. “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” (Exod. 14:13, 14). God then split the waters of the Red Sea. The people of God passed through on dry ground. The Egyptians followed but were bogged down in the mud. The waters fell in upon them and covered the Egyptians. And what is the next thing that the Israelites saw? “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD” (Exod. 14:31).

We often do not see that God is working several moves ahead of us. We don’t see the plan he is orchestrating and ordaining in our lives. Sadly, we often only see the enemies of God advancing against us. And in our fear, we “remember” things that simply are not true. We doubt God’s goodness. We doubt his grace. We doubt his sovereignty. We doubt his love for us. We need to see that the LORD is fighting for us. We need to see the redemption won for us in Christ. We need to see that the LORD is playing out his perfect plan with precision before us. We need to see the great power of the LORD.