Moses and the Israelites (Moses Part 6)

Last week we talked about the last plague God sent to Egypt, the death of the firstborns, and we talked about Passover--the Jewish holiday that commemorates this event. After this tenth plague, Pharaoh finally relented and finally let the Hebrews leave Egypt. So today we're going to start with that. Can someone read Exodus 12:37-41?

37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. 39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. 41 At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.

The Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years according to these verses. I want us to think about that for a moment. 430 years. How long ago was 430 years from now? 1587. Do you guys know anything about 1587? What the world was like then? Where your ancestors were?

Well let's see,  in 1587 Queen Elizabeth the First was queen of England. In 1587, Shakespear was alive but had not yet written his first play. In 1587 the Pilgrims had not even come to America yet. The Spanish had, I believe. So if you're of Spanish or obviously Native American descent, your ancestors may have been in America. Otherwise, your family hadn't come here yet. They were all living in some other country and probably didn't know America even existed.

Do you guys know the names of any of your ancestors who were alive in 1587? [Let them answer.] Yeah, most people don't unless you're descended from some big name person like the Queen of England. So your family wasn't likely here in 1587. Do you consider yourself American? [Let them answer.]

Why do I bring this up? Because the Hebrews had been in Egypt longer than your families have been here. And yet they didn't consider themselves Egyptian. They never assimilated. Yet it had been the only land they had ever known. The only land their parents, grandparents, great great grandparents and farther back than most of us can remember. And suddenly they are leaving.

So they're greateful to leave this oppression, to not be slaves anymore, but do you think this leaving of the only land they had ever known for generations was maybe a little scary? [Let them answer.]

Yeah. I think they were both happy and terrified. They had no idea what the world outside of Egypt might be like. And they were going to a promised land their families hadn't been to for hundreds of years. While they would have stories of what it was like--the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that we've read--they would have no idea what it's really like. And places can change a lot in 430 years.

And needless to say, they probably didn't have directions on how to get there. We'll see in the next verses how God is going to take care of that. Can someone read Exodus 13:17-22?

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” 20 They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

There is a couple of things in this section. (1) God is personally picking the path the Hebrews are going in. So it doesn't matter that they don't have the right directions. He doesn't want them to face war so immentently after leaving Egypt, so he picked a more scenic direction. (2) Moses takes Joseph's bones with them out of Egypt. Remember Joseph was the most trusted man in all of Egypt in his day. So his body was probably fairly well preserved. We still have bones of Egyptians from back then, so it's not crazy that they would have access to his tomb and be able to take his remains with them. By taking Joseph's bones, Moses is fulfilling a promise Joseph made the people make, that they would take his remains back home, to his original homeland, the promise land, one day. (3) God led the Israelites with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. A lot of times this is visualized as like a tornado going ahead of them, leading the way.  Don't you think that would have been amazing to see? The Israelites were literally being led by God. Miraculous.

Alright can someone read Exodus 14:5-9?

5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; 7 he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

So the Israelites leave and suddenly Pharaoh realizes what he's done. Time has passed since the last plague, and he's without the people who they relied on as slaves. Also the plagues devastated Egypt. Egypt has lost everything: it's crops, it's livestock, it's slaves, and it's firstborn. This is probably the moment in the Pharaoh's grief where he is feeling rage, and all of his rage and anger at losing everything is directed at the people who--from his perspective--caused it. The Israelites. So he and his entire army suits up and goes after them.

Can somsone read Exodus 14:10-14?

10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

So the Israelites see Pharaoh coming--they see this whole army bearing down on them. The Israelites are a lot of people, but they're not an army. They don't have weapons. They have like children in their arms. If Pharaoh comes in on chariots, he will slaughter them.  So they're basically like "OMG WHAT WAS THE POINT? TO FREE US JUST SO WE CAN DIE NOW????" And Moses is like "You guys need to chill. God's got us." And that just might be the understatement of the year. Because what happens next is probably the most famous Biblical miracle. Can someone read Exodus 14:19-22?

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

The tornado that was leading the Israelites? Suddenly it moves and cuts off the Egyptians from getting to them. They can't get through it, and the Israelites are temporarily safe. But they're backed up to a sea. Moses turns to the sea, stretches out his hand, and God parts the water. He literally parts the water so that they walk on the sea's floor and it is dry, with walls of water around them, like they're walking through a canyon made of water. The Hebrews then walk through this canyon of water to escape the Egyptians.

Now can someone read Exodus 14:23-31?

23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Presumably the tornado separating the Egyptians and Hebrews drops, because now the Egyptians pursue them into the water. But then the tornado of fire comes back and send them all into a panic, but it's kinda hard to turn your chariot around in the bottom of a chasm of water. God basically makes their chariot wheels start getting stuck and the like. Then once all the Hebrews are through the water, God has Moses raise his hand again and the sea returns to normal, flooding the Egyptians. The entire army of Pharaoh is drowned.

The Israelites were terrified of this army, but God showed them no one is more powerful than him. Not even teh most powerful army on the face of the planet. Because remember that is what the Egyptians would have been at that time. The most powerful country with the most powerful army in the world. God is stronger than that.

And these Hebrews who believed in the beginning of this story that God wouldn't really be able to free them from slavery, are finally beginning to really believe that God is on their side.

Now the Hebrews are truly free from Egypt. They are not only seperated from Egypt by the Red Sea, but pharaoh's entire pursuing army is dead. They spend most of the next chapter just singing praises to God. They are amazed and they finally believe, they really are God's chosen people.

But things don't stay all hunky dory because the Hebrews, like us, were only human. Can someone read Exodus 15:22-25?

22 Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test.

Three days after they've left the Red Sea, they have not found any water. We've talked about this before: how long can you last without water? [Let them answer.] Three days. So assuming they had canteens and jugs of water they were carrying with them, they are probably still fine but getting worried. Water is something you need easy access to in order to survive. This is why you can get it for free everywhere in America from water fountains in public and most restaurants. No one wants anyone to die from dehydration.

Then they do find water but it's "bitter." That probably means it's salt water, which is not drinkable. If you drink salt water, you will dehydrate faster than you hydrate because of the salt. So the people are worried and they take it to Moses.

And God tells Moses to throw a stick in the water and he makes it drinkable! Yay God is still taking care of them!

Can someone read Exodus 16:2-3?

2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Again we have the same kind of worry as the water. They don't have good and they're afraid they're going to die in the middle of the desert. Do you guys think God is going to take care of this too? [Let them answer.] Well let's see. Can someone read Exodus 16:13-15?

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."

God once again provides. In the evenings quails come and cover the camp. Quails are birds, and basically they're kind of like small chickens from a food perspective. So the people would be able to get a quail and cook it, and be satisfied. God also provides them in the morning with a strange substance that the people don't know what it is. Here Moses tells them it is a bread God is providing them. If you look ahead to Exodus 16:31 the Bible says this about this strange food: "The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made of honey."

Manna. If you ever here someone say "Manna from heaven" this is what they mean. Or sometimes it's used a saying to mean something needed God is miraculously giving you. Whatever manna was it was clearly very delicious and filling.

Now can somsone read Exodus 17:1-6?

17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Once again water is a concern. Remember they're traveling. And where your water comes from depends on where are you--the nearest lakes or springs or wells. They didn't have hotels they could just check themselves into that had running water. The land provided the water to them. So they become concerned again when they have a couple of days with no water. And they came to Moses and are angry with him. "Give us water!"

Moses is angsty about this. He sees all the stuff God has been providing them and is basically like "Don't you know God will provide?" But the people are just like "YOU BROUGHT US OUT HERE TO DIE."

I think when people read these stories they tend to identify a lot with Moses in this situation, seeing these people are ungrateful and not willing to trust in God. But I think we should be a little more generous than that when we read this story. These people had lived in Egypt their entire lives. In Egypt they had food. They had water. They understood how the world worked. Suddenly there life is like an extended camping trip where every day is a new surprise, a new challenge, a new fear. I think they're like a lot of us when we go camping for the first time. We're used to a life of running water and toilets and suddenly, we're in the wilderness without any of those things. It's very scary to be in the wilderness and be uncertain about where you're going or when you'll get there.

And Moses is impatient with them. Remember Moses never really wanted this job in the first place. He kept trying to get out of it. He didn't want this life. He wanted to stay a shephard in Midian with his wife's people. Instead he's leading this group of needy people who are relying on him. The Hebrews look to Moses and they basically see God. Yes it is God who is providing, but what the people see is Moses lifting his staff to part the Red Sea, Moses throwing a stick in the water to make it sweet, Moses bringing quails and manna.

I think the people are idolizing Moses a little bit. And this next story certainly isn't going to make that any better. Can somsone read Exodus 17:8-16?

8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. 13 And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. 16 He said, “A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

The Israelites basically run into an army on their travels. And they have to fight them. Here we are introduced to Joshua--who is basically the leader of the Hebrew army, such as it is. Moses tells him to go fight this army and that Moses will watch out for them. And so Joshua does. And when Moses raises his hands, the Hebrews begin to win! When his hands fall because he is tired, they begin to lose. So Aaron and another guy basically prop him up so his hands stay up.

This basically makes it seem like--to the Israelites--that Moses is magical. We know God is just using Moses, but from their perspective, they've never like actually seen God. They've only seen Moses come and promise he would save them. Moses raise his staff to bring about plagues. Moses find them water. Moses get them food. Moses save them from this army. And I think that explains what happens next.

Moses leads the people to a mountain called Sinai, which Moses climbs to go talk to God. We're going to study what goes on between Moses and God on this mountain next week. But basically Moses goes up there and disappears for several days.

Up until this point the people have been wholy relying on Moses. So when he disappears. They don't really take it well. Can someone read Exodus 32:1-6?

32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, 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.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Moses doesn't come down in a timely fashion and people freak out. They basically ask Aaron to make them a new god and he does! Aaron, Moses' own brother, who should know better than anyone. Why? After everything God has done for them! After everything they have seen. Why are they doubting God?

Well I think it's because they didn't really believe, not really. They didn't see it as God providing them, they say it as Moses providing for them. They saw Moses as god. So when Moses went missing, god went missing. And suddenly here they were, in the wilderness, alone, without their god. So they wanted something else to idolize, something else to believe in in the place of Moses. So they made a golden calf, something they knew wasn't really a god. Something they made with their own hands. But they were scared and alone.

I think people do this all the time. I think we think we're believing in God sometimes, but really we're believing in a stand-in for God. That thing can be our pastor, our parents, a teacher, a friend, or any numerous things. We think "God doesn't talk to me. God only talks to them." And so we listen to that person's words more closely, and don't listen for God ourselves. And we make that person sort of like God to us. And when we lose that person, it can be devastating. Suddenly we don't know how to hear God, because that person was the only way we had to connect to God, or so we thought.

But while Moses left the Israelites, did God? [Let them answer.] No! God can be everywhere and with all of us. He can speak to each one of us. There isn't one special perosn that only hears God. There wasn't even back then. Aaron had heard God speak, God had come to him in dreams and spoken to him. And yet he too doubted, putting more faith in Moses.

You don't need someone else to act between you and God. You can go to him directly. And if you lose someone close to you who kept you accountable and near God--whether through that person moving or leaving or dying--that doesn't mean you lose God. You can still stay with God. You can have your own personal relationship with God, and you don't need to rely on anyone--your parents, your pastor, or your teacher--for that.

And we're going to stop here this week. Next week we'll talk about what exactly did happen with Moses on that mountain and how he reacts when he comes down and sees what has happened.