It’s a familiar story. Even if you’re not Jewish you may have seen the movie, or heard about the Exodus when you were a child at Sunday School – and if you are Jewish, you get to take part in the retelling of this story year after year, at Passover. Which means you get to think: I know this story, I know what happened, I know what it’s all about…
Then you sit there one day, thinking about it again, and something hits you.
Which is what happened to me just now…
We celebrated the Passover Seder on Friday night and told the story once again. A story which is sometimes framed as “Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt” but is really “God gets the Israelites out of Egypt [and uses Moses]”, but…
There’s lots of action in this story, there is slavery and hard labour, there’s the ten plagues, there’s the whole thing with the lambs and their blood smeared on the door posts (which is really important, by the way, but it’s not what I’m going to talk about in this post), there’s the dramatic chase and the parting of the waters for the Israelites to pass, and then the drowning of the Egyptian army – so much going on, and for me as a follower of Jesus there’s a tendency to focus on the clues about the Messiah who was to come (the Passover lamb, the blood protecting us from God’s wrath) – with all of that to focus on, it’s easy to miss a really important point about what’s going on in this story: we’re watching a fight between gods.
You see, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, believed he could do what he liked in his country. Including the oppression of this bunch of people, the Israelites – he didn’t reckon on one crucial factor: God, the creator of the universe, who rules over the whole world, including Egypt, and who had chosen that bunch of people out of the whole world and called them his own.
The Israelites cried out to God and he heard their cry and sent Moses to get them out of there – not by some kind of armed struggle, not in Moses’ own strength, but Moses was to be a messenger, someone to take God’s message to Pharaoh. and the message was:
This refrain is repeated again and again, with Pharaoh arrogantly refusing – his first response was: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” Pharaoh was trusting in his Egyptian gods, a bunch of useless idols – as he was going to find out.
Like a school bully who keeps beating up the short kid with the glasses and then one day, to his surprise, finds the short kid’s big scary dad towering over him and saying “how dare you pick on my kid” – Pharaoh had picked on the wrong kid. He had picked on the wrong bunch of people – the Israelites weren’t some bunch of people with no protector, they were under the protection of God, the creator of the universe, and Pharaoh was going to learn this the hard way. He was going to see that his gods were no match for the real God of the universe.
You see, this story isn’t so much about the Israelites as it is about God. The fact that he got us out of Egypt – it’s not so much about us as about God showing his authority, his sovereignty, his power, his rule over the whole world. It’s not so much about his love for us (though his love for us is for real and it’s wonderful), or his compassion (which, again, is real and wonderful – just not the main point of the story), as it is about God showing that he is well able to keep his promises and to protect his people and that the gods of Egypt can’t stand against him. It is about God teaching the Egyptians a lesson – and the whole world, because the world would be watching, as Egypt at the time was a superpower that everyone looked up to. (and since God chose to include this in the Bible, it’s also part of his message to the whole world not just then but for now and for always.)
It’s not about us. It’s never been about us. The story of my people, the Israelites (or the Jews, as we’re known today), has never been about us but about God – about how he chose us (not because of anything wonderful we’d done, nor because we were particularly wonderful; he chose us and it’s his prerogative, because he is God); about how he faithfully came to our rescue again and again when our enemies tried to destroy us; about how he faithfully and lovingly refuses to give up on us even when we turn our backs on him (Hosea is a great book for that) – and this particular part of the whole narrative of the Bible, the part that we retell at Passover, is about God saying:
they’re My people and therefore, if you oppress them you are going to have to give account to Me, and look, it’s not very nice when that happens.
If you are reading this and you’re Jewish, this is a reminder to you: we have a God who is awesome and mighty, he has been faithfully protecting our nation against so many enemies and keeping us alive against all odds – are you personally being faithful to him? The Passover story shows us what happens to people who harden their hearts against God, like Pharaoh. It’s great having such an awesome God as our protector, but remember he is not to be messed with.
If you are reading this and you’re not Jewish – you can learn from this story about how faithful God is to his promises, and how powerful and mighty he is.
And whether you’re Jewish or not, you need to come to God on his own terms – he’s the one who calls the shots, and he doesn’t have to fit in with our human ideas of what’s right. It’s the other way round – he is the one in charge, and it’s up to us to fit in with him. And he has appointed one, and only one way that human beings can be saved: Jesus. The Messiah who was promised throughout the Bible, who was foreshadowed in the Passover when the Israelites were commanded to kill a lamb without blemish and smear its blood on their doorposts so that the LORD would pass over their houses when he was going through Egypt and killing all the firstborn – Jesus became the ultimate Passover sacrifice, dying to take the punishment we all deserve, opening the way for Jew and Gentile alike, that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
In the Exodus story we see how mighty and awesome God is. We see how great it is to be his – and thanks to Jesus that possibility is open to anyone, to personally become a child of God, to know his love and forgiveness and acceptance, to receive his assurance of salvation, to know that he will never let you go. Look at his faithfulness to the Israelites throughout the centuries, even though we have not been faithful to him! Take it as an encouragement: this is how faithful God is. Put your trust in him and know that he will never fail.
The flip side of the story is: look how mighty and awesome God is, and what he did to the Egyptians. It ain’t pretty. Pharaoh was so arrogant, saying [I’m paraphrasing] “who is this ‘God of Israel’ guy that I should pay any attention to what he says? I can do what I like” – much as many people in the west today are saying. Let this story be a warning to you. Repent and turn to God while you still can.