Last night, the anxiety was enough to get me out of bed and on my knees. It had crept in during the day as I’d tried to make everyone else OK. But I was really just trying to suck up.
I’m beginning to recognize the accuser’s voice, whose tell-tale, hard-sell is, “you’re messing up,” no matter what words he uses. Lying in bed, I heard what he said. It was then that my knees hit the floor.
Today’s passages remind me that only God can validate and vindicate. It’s God who saves. And his words are voice enough.
A lot has happened. God’s brought ten plagues against Pharaoh Amunhotep II of Egypt to convince him to let his people go. Through Moses, he’s turned water into blood and provided an abundance of frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and finally, death to firstborn sons. Just as God predicted, Pharaoh not only lets them go, he wakes Moses in the middle of the night to drive them all out, Ex 6:1; 11:1; 12:31-33.
Six hundred thousand men plus women and children, about 2 million people, left Egypt, laden with unleavened bread and their belongings, plus silver and gold, given by the Egyptians simply for the asking, Ex 11:2-3; 12:34-39 (NIV Study Bible note).
God’s taken special care of his people throughout the plagues, who never experience the first fly or frog where they live. He’s also provided riches when they leave town from their wealthy captors, made careful plans for a meat-and-flatbread meal the night before, not to mention protected them from the angel who flew over and killed other firstborn sons.
At the beginning of this passage, his kindness continues. As they travel, God leads them with a “pillar of cloud” by day, and by night with a “pillar of fire,” and he takes them the long way ’round to avoid some nasty neighbors. He knows if they have war on the way, they’ll be tempted to turn back, Ex 13:17-18, 21-22.
Once the Israelites are gone, Pharaoh’s heart hardens again as it had during the plagues, and he brings his whole army out with chariots to get them back. When the Egyptians find them, they’re camped along the shores of the Red Sea. When Israel sees them, they’re terrified and cry out to God, Ex 14:5-10.
God had already given Moses a head’s up that Pharaoh was coming. He said it was part of his plan, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD,” Ex 14:4.
Evidently Moses hadn’t shared this with God’s people, because they promptly jump all over him, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!'” Ex 14:11-12.
Moses doesn’t react. He doesn’t return tit-for-tat or get angry and defensive. He’s seen God’s power in Egypt with all the plagues. He’s seen how God’s protected and provided for his people every step of the way. His eyes aren’t on Egyptian soldiers and their chariots; they’re on God.
And Moses wants Israel to see God, too. Instead of firing back, he says, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still,” Ex 4:13-14. Reminding them that God was in control, that he would fight for them, and that he didn’t need anybody’s help was what they really needed. Maybe it’s what steadied Moses, too.
But then Moses cries out to God. The Bible doesn’t record what he says, but we know he did because God’s response is, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground,” Ex 14:15-16.
Why does God chide him here? It’s not clear. Maybe God is reminding him that this work they’ve been doing together is teamwork, and today is no different. God’s job is to provide the miracle. Moses’ job is to pick up his staff and trust him. “Get going.”
God repeats his reason for bringing Pharaoh after them–so that Egypt will know that “I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen,” Ex 14:17-18. Earlier he’d said he was bringing hail so that all Egypt would “know that there is no one like me in all the earth…I have raised you (Pharaoh) up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth,” Ex 9:14-16.
Is God full of himself? Why does he care that the Egyptians know who he is?
When we went through Ezekiel last fall, we kept bumping into this same reason why God did what he did, both with his own people and with their pagan neighbors–that “you will know that I am the Lord,” Ez 16:62 (among 179 other references). We learned that what God means by “knowing him” means knowing him as one’s own God. What he wants for all people is that they know him in as intimate a way as they know their most beloved one, because God’s idea of “knowing” means having a love relationship with him, (for more about what it means to know God, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/17/november-17/).
Of course, it’s not just the Egyptians he wants to know him. He also wants his people to know him, too. God says the whole ordeal with Pharaoh is so “you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD,” Ex 10:2. God’s plan has always been for all people to know him, not just a certain few.
Besides the two million Israelites who leave Egypt, “many other people went up with them,” too. Who are these? Evidently, there are already Egyptians or other foreigners who believe, and they’re included in the group, right along with the Hebrews, Ex 12:38.
In fact, when God gives instructions about preparing the passover lamb they eat before they leave, he includes what to do about outsiders who want to participate. God doesn’t prohibit anyone who wants to be a part of his people. This is who God was, and this is who he is still. God doesn’t change, Mal 3:6; Ex 12:43-49.
With their backs to the Red Sea, the pillar of fire moves between the two groups. On Israel’s side, there’s light, but Egypt is in the dark. Moses stretches out his staff and the sea splits and rolls back, the water piles up like walls on each side, and all Israel walks through on dry ground. Pharaoh and his army charge in after them, but once Israel is safely through, Moses stretches out his staff again. The sea rolls back and every Egyptian drowns, Ex 14:19-28.
It’s an event so staggering in majesty and miracle, it’s hard to take in. Moses himself is moved to poetry and song, and they all sing praise to God in a psalm that asks, “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Ex 15:11.
They’ve experienced God as Yahweh, the LORD, who cares for his people and saves them, who protects and fights for them, and they sing,
“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling,”
God’s plan for saving his people is unchanged by times and nations, by politics and health crises. And so is his love for them. His love for “them” is his love for each of us, for you and for me. I love both of the promises in verse 13, because they say that it’s God’s love and strength that redeem and guide me. Not mine. God is the one who does all the work. In unfailing love, God leads those he redeems. In strength, God guides them to himself.
When they see the Egyptian chariots and start to panic, Moses basically says, “Get where you can see.” This was God’s show. Moses says for them not to be afraid, but to “stand firm,” and “be still,” and they’ll see the deliverance God would bring.
I wonder how many deliverances I’ve missed by trying to save myself–my reputation, my pride, my desires. I can do a lot of things, but standing firm and being still aren’t two of them. The idea that God will do everything that is needed to deliver me, to save me, is hugely relieving. I’m often striving for something he’s already done and wondering why I’m exhausted and not getting anywhere.
And the idea that God loves me so much that he fights for me moves me to tears. It’s tempting to see problems and step in to solve them rather than wait to see what God will do. It would take a lot of faith and trust that he really loves me, really fights for me, really leads and guides me to not be afraid, and to stand firm and be still.
I’m guessing a lot of anxiety would vanish if my faith could grow this much–to believe he loves me like this.
Deep cleansing breath.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still,” Ex 13:13.
The chief priests and elders of the Jews ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?” He’d just run money changers out of the temple the day before, and they’re miffed. Jesus evades their question, knowing what their message really is: you don’t have any authority with us, v 23-27.
Not to be outdone, Jesus tells them two parables. The first is of the man with two sons, who tells the first to work in his vineyard. The son says, “no,” but goes. The second son says, “yes,” but won’t. Jesus asks which one has done what his father asked? They answer, “The first,” v 28-31.
Then Jesus tells them bluntly that the tax collectors and prostitutes are getting into the kingdom ahead of them because they refuse to repent. They are “second sons,” who say the right words, but don’t do what God says, v 31-32.
Jesus’ next parable is of a landowner who plants a vineyard and rents it to farmers, who won’t pay him the fruit they owe him at harvest time. They beat the servants the landowner sends to collect, and then kill his son who comes next, v 33-39.
Jesus asks them, “What will he do to those tenants?” v 40. The leaders answer, “he’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end,” and will give his vineyard to others who will share the crop at harvest, v 41.
Jesus agrees. He says bluntly, again, that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to people who produce its fruit.
What’s the fruit the landowner wants? He wants a return on his investment in the vineyard. He wants grapes and wine. God as landowner wants real faith on the part of his priests and elders and fruit—like goodness and love—that befits their position in the synagogue. They have none.
Why is Jesus so blunt and abrupt? He’s giving these men another chance to hear the truth about themselves and repent. He tells them they’re the builders mentioned in Psalm 118 who stumble over him, “the cornerstone,” v 42, 44. They can’t get past his being nothing like them.
Humble repentance is impossible apart from true faith. It’s something only God can give. The fruit of these leaders is hateful pride, that does religious things without love inside, and looks for how to get rid of Jesus rather than repent, v 46.
John the Baptist said, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” Mt 3:8; Lk 3:8.
“Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have led a blameless life…
Test me…and try me,
examine my heart and mind;
for your love is ever before me,
and I walk continually in your truth,”
David’s been falsely accused. He says he’s blameless, but he’s not sinless, since he says himself in verse 11 that he needs God’s mercy and redemption. By blameless, he means he’s not guilty of what he’s been accused of.
David doesn’t appeal to his enemies or his friends to clear him. He goes directly to God, the one who examines his heart and mind, who knows him through and through. It’s God who he’s accountable to. Because God’s vindication matters most, he lives his life in “your love” and “your truth,” putting the opinions of others in their proper place.
This is where we find ourselves when God’s “attaboy” matters most–steady, secure, and praising God with his people:
“My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the LORD,” v 12.
My take away today is to embrace Jesus rather than to stumble over him like the Pharisees did.
I confess, I have an inner Pharisee that still tries to earn my place and get rid of needing Jesus. Sometimes, I hate grace. Somewhere deep inside, I must still think–at least a little bit–that I can be good enough to earn my way.
But embracing Jesus means believing there’s nothing more for me to do than what he’s already done.
Embracing Jesus means repenting for sins, including trying to repent so well that I earn validation.
Embracing Jesus means accepting that all is grace and my sins are paid and I’m freed from them to love and praise.
help me trust
firm and still
on level ground,
your holy hill.
Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Songs of Jesus informed my thoughts on Psalm 26.