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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Exodus - Road to the Red Sea

4: What if… God’s really acts in our world?

Would finding a “natural” explanation for an event stop it’s being miraculous? When Jesus calmed the waves, the disciples cried out “Who is he, that even the wind and waves obey him?” When Moses stretched his hand over the water, the Hebrews might have said the same. But what if the storm was just about to abate, and the water just about to turn red. Would that stop it from being a miracle?

Egyptian magicians could make the tide turn red. That’s magic, unless we understand how it’s done. But they couldn’t part the sea and neither, in general, can we. We might guess when seas will run dry, but God, who created nature, makes the timing exactly right for His people to escape.

When too many “natural” coincidences pile on top of each other, perhaps that’s when it’s fair to say there’s a God and He’s performing miracles. It might even be the “simplest” explanation.

What if… God designed our instincts?
There is something very natural about placing importance on firstborn children. Both historically and in present-day inheritance, firstborns are given importance over other offspring. The fact that the Israelites knew when the Egyptian firstborn animals died suggests that firstborns were important in both cultures at the time of the Exodus: See Exodus 4:22, 6:14, 11:5, 12:12, 13:2, 13:12, 22:29, 34:19.

What if… God designed our calendars?

In Exodus 12:1-28 God declares “this day” to be the first of the first month. We recognize this as sometime around March or April. The Jews must choose a lamb on the 10th day and eat it on the 14th. They spend the next seven days travelling across the desert, and must commemorate them in later years by eating only travelers’ foods.

What if… God allows for our mistakes?
When Moses first meets God on the mountain, God persuades him both of His identity and of Moses’ part in His plan. But Moses clearly hasn’t been following God’s rules during his stay in Midian; Exodus 4:24-26 describes how Moses becomes ill on the way back to Egypt. He is healed when his wife circumcises his sons. How did Zipporah know what to do? Her words suggest the ritual may have been a bone of contention between her and Moses. Maybe Moses was literally sick with worry, and Zipporah’s actions served to heal him and convince him both of God’s power and God’s guidance.

What if… God allows for others’ ill intent?
The Bible tells how Pharaoh tried to cheat God, but God took his ill intent into account beforehand.
1. 2nd plague – Deceit. Pharaoh asks Moses to ask God to take away the frogs but doesn’t intend to free the people: Exodus 8:8
2. 4th plague – Compromise. Pharaoh suggests they make their sacrifice in Egypt, or at least don’t go far away: Exodus 8:25, 8:28
3. 7th plague – Broken promises. Pharaoh says he’ll let them go: Exodus 9:27-28.
4. 8th plague – Negotiation. Pharaoh suggests they just send the men: Exodus 10:11
5. 9th plague – Broken spirit. Pharaoh is still trying to set limits and asks them to leave the flocks behind Exodus 10:24
6. 10th plague – Surrender. Pharaoh lets them go: Exodus 12:31-32.
7. Change of mind. Exodus 14:5 Did Pharaoh always plan to renege on his agreement, or did he suddenly realize he’d been tricked?

What if… God understands all our needs?
God provided for his people in many ways before they began their journey: See Exodus 12:30-51
1. Animals were needed for food and for transport. The Israelites would have led their flocks with them and used donkeys to carry their tents, goods and water bags.
2. Gold was needed to buy water at oasis as they travelled, and as treasure for the tabernacle.
3. Rituals were needed to keep the stories fresh in everyone’s minds, even as Moses was writing everything down.
4. Force was needed to protect the people as they marched. They were probably already organized into slave gangs by the Egyptians, and might have travelled in similar groups. (Since the same word is used for thousand and for troop, there may have been 600 troops marching rather than 600,000 men.) Today, tribes of 5,000 families (20,000 people, 500 troops of 10 men each) plus animals form columns about 12 miles wide and 3 miles deep when they cross the desert, maximizing grazing and minimizing the danger of attack. Perhaps this is how the Israelites would have appeared as they followed the road.
5. Timing had to be right. The Israelites traveled in March or April. Hailstorms would have left pools of water, and the desert would be in bloom. Such a journey with so many people would only be possible in spring.
6. Delayed pursuit gave the Israelites a chance to escape. 7 days quick march would be enough for them to cross the Sinai peninsula and escape from Egyptian controlled territories before Pharaoh sent his troops to look for them.

What if… God planned the whole story?
Recapping the “story so far:”
1. Abraham lived with other tribes in Canaan, on land promised to his descendants. Later God sends the Israelites back to reclaim the land.
2. Abraham’s descendants moved to Egypt for 400 years, consolidating their traditions in peace and isolation. Reciting rather than re-telling Genesis, they would have kept the Word as real and unchanging as the printed word is to us. Years of isolation would have protected them from the corruption of other versions of the God’s stories.
3. Egyptians built the resort capital of Rameses using Hebrews as slaves. Attempts to keep down the slave population failed. Moses, through the efforts of faithful women—midwives, his mother and sister, and an Egyptian princess—grew up in the Egyptian palace. He was probably the first Israelites to learn to write, and hence the first to write down the words of Genesis.
4. Moses tried to use his own power and influence to rescue God’s people. He failed and fled, probably to Arabia, probably carrying his written Genesis with him and keeping a diary.
5. Moses lived amongst the Midianites, married a foreign priest’s daughter, and did not follow Hebrew traditions. But God met with him when he took his flocks to a holy mountain, and called him to rescue His people.
6. With his staff for power and his brother for influence, Moses finally learned to trust God.
7. And with Moses to lead them and God’s miracles to guide them, the Israelites learned the same lesson.
8. God didn’t lead the people straight back to Canaan, but instead had them meet with Him on his mountain. Like Moses, they were forced to recognize that God was in charge.
9. And then God still didn’t lead them straight back, but made them wander in the desert for a whole generation.
10. Finally the Israelites arrived back in Canaan and drove out, killed, or assimilated the inhabitants.

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