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Click Here for a brief overview of where we are in the study in the history of man and the Bible.
Click Here for Ray Comfort’s explanation of how we all break each of the 10 commandments
Before we start I wanted to go over some terminology for us to know before we dive in is that when people talk about the exodus they are referring to the Israelites leaving Egypt, exodus simply means a mass departure of people, and that is what happened here, so we refer to it as the exodus. And, they were leaving in order to go to a land that God had promised to them, so that is why we say they were leaving Egypt to go to the Promised Land.
Overview of Moses’ Life
Tonight we are going to be focusing on the events in Moses’ life that happened around the time that God gave to Moses the Law, and the Ten Commandments. So let’s briefly review Moses’ life up until this point. After Joseph died a new Egyptian Pharaoh came into office who didn’t care about the Israelites and turned them into slave laborers. Then, because the Israelites had become so numerous and he feared them rising up against the Egyptians, Pharaoh commanded that when they had boys the midwives kill them. So Moses’ mother had him and somehow kept him alive for a few months, then put him in a basket on the river Nile hoping he would be kept alive somehow. Pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as her own in the palace and under Egyptian education and training. 40 years later, Moses saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian – it was not an accident, he meant to kill him. Then Moses ran away to the country where he lived for 40 years. There he got married and had two boys and worked as a shepherd tending sheep. Then God appears to Moses one day in the burning bush and says this to him, “…the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Ex 3:9-10) We are not told why God chose Moses, but He did. That leads us up to where we are tonight.
The People Moses was Called to Lead
We are not going to focus in this study as much on what we learn from Moses, as what we learn from the people he was called to lead, because that’s where I think we can learn the most from this story. The last two weeks we learned from how Noah and Abraham lived as ways that we too should be striving to live, but tonight we are going to look at the Israelites and learn how not to live. And I encourage you as we do this to ask your self, Do I see myself in the people of Israel? So while we might be taking a more negative view tonight, I think we will learn just as much. As we read through this story of the Exodus there is a pattern of behavior and attitude that stands out very clearly as we look at the people of Israel. This pattern begins when Moses and Aaron first go to the people of Israel while they are still in Egypt under oppression to tell them about God’s plan.
A SELF-FOCUSED FAITH
Exodus 4:29-31 says…
“Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30 and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31 and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.”
The Hebrew word for bow here actually means to bow down “low”, it was not with an arrogant or deserving attitude that they worshiped God, but instead they were humbled and grateful that God cared for them and was going to save them from this horrible situation. But, immediately following this scene we read that when Pharaoh did not respond well to Moses, and instead oppressed the Israelites even more, the Israelites had a change in attitude and we read about this in Exodus 5:20-21,
“When they (some Israelites who had gone to complain to Pharaoh) left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, 21 and they said, “May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Things have not gone as they had imagined they would go. Not only are they completely ticked off at this, but they are now turning and blaming it on Moses and Aaron and forgetting that this was not their plan, it was God’s. So Moses goes to God and God gives him a message of hope and encouragement to give to the people, but when Moses delivers this message to the people we read in Exodus 6:9,
“…they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.”
The people would not listen to Moses because they could not see beyond their own situation and their own happiness. This is all they cared about, so when it didn’t seem that God or Moses cared as much about that as they did, they wouldn’t listen.
So this is the first thing we learn from the Israelites. When we have our eyes focused on ourselves, our situations, and what we want, we will fail to trust those that God has placed in leadership and we will fail to hear God’s voice in our lives. The very thing we need most we can’t receive because our focus is on ourselves instead of on God. Can you relate to this? Have you ever found yourself in a place where you were so focused on yourself and your situation that you failed to see God’s hand and hear His voice?
An Unstable Faith
So we go on to read for the next several chapters about the plagues that God brings upon Egypt which finally result in Pharaoh letting the Israelites leave. And we read at the end of chapter 12, once the people have been set free and are now out of Egypt, that their attitude has improved. Exodus 12:50 tells us,
“All the Israelites did just what the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron.”
So they have gotten what they wanted, they are free, their situation has improved, so now they are ready to be obedient and have a good attitude. But then, Pharaoh changes his mind about letting the Israelites go and decides he wants his slaves back, so he pursues them with his army. And when the Israelites realize this, this is their reaction in Exodus 14:10-12,
“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “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? 12 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!”
Once again, at the first sign of things turning sour, they lose their trust in God and the men God had called to lead them. And they begin saying things that almost seem humorous. But if you put yourself in their situation, can’t you see yourself at least thinking the same thing? We often get upset at how things in our lives have turned out and think things like: God, are you messing with me? Why would you do this to me? Do you hate me? Do you not care about me? Did you just do this so you could harm me more? In the same way, the Israelites weren’t spoiled brats like you and I would like to say they were, they were humans who didn’t know the end of their story, so instead of trusting God with their situation, they freaked out and they began to question God. But once again, God responds by giving Moses a message of hope and encouragement that Moses then tells to the people – and then God delivers them from the Egyptians by parting the Red Sea. So after the Israelites have been saved we are told of their new attitude, Exodus 14:30-31 says,
“That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”
Ah, finally, they get it. Not only can they trust God and trust the man God has called to lead them, but they fear Him because He has great powers. He can do anything. They now believe.
As we look at what has just taken place with the Israelites we learn another very important lesson about what it means to have faith and submit to God in our lives. When things were good and God did what they wanted Him to do, they were content and trusted God. But when things were not good and not how they wanted them to be, they lost all faith and trust in God and began to doubt and question Him. But the funny truth is that the way they acted didn’t change what God was going to do and it didn’t bring them peace in the midst of a hard time.
When we doubt and question God, when we only accept the good times with good attitudes but have a bad attitude when things are hard, we are truly robbing ourselves of the peace that God has to give us when things are tough and we are failing to see God for who He is. James 1:6 tells us “…he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” which describes the Israelites, but we are called to do what Paul describes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything but by prayer and petition present your requests to God…and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your souls…”
The Israelites allowed themselves to be tossed back and forth because of their doubt and it resulted in a true lack of faith and knowledge of who God is. For you and I, that means that we must learn that God is the same in good times and in bad, and He calls us to have a persevering faith in Him at all times and not allow the circumstances of our lives to toss us back and forth.
THE RESULT: DISOBEDIENCE & IDOL WORSHIP
After they are finally truly free from the Egyptians they find themselves in the desert and in a new situation. They are finally free so their attitudes should be different, right? But they are not, here is what we read about them in Exodus 16 & 17…
They complain about their lack of food and water:
Exodus 16:2-3 “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’S hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Exodus 17:2-3 “So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
They blame Moses and Aaron
16:3 They tell Moses “ you have brought us…” so Moses answers in verse 8: “Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.” And then again when they want water in 17:3 they say again that it was Moses who did this to them.
They questioned God
Exodus 17:7 “… the Israelites quarreled and …tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Despite everything they had seen and the many times they had claimed faith and obedience to God, they are now questioning whether it is really God or not.
So their attitude is the same and we begin to see the results of a self-focused and unstable faith:
They disobey God’s commands
Exodus 16:20 “However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.”
Exodus 16:27 “Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none.”
When our faith is unstable and is focused on ourselves rather than on God, it will always lead to disobedience. Even in the most subtle ways. And often, our disobedience is accompanied by justification as the Israelites did, they tended to know better than God and that justified their disobedience.
They worship other things
Moses goes up on the mountain and God tells Moses how His people are to live in order to establish this new great nation. But Moses is gone for longer than the people thought he would be gone for, 40 days, and in chapter 32 we read that the Israelites grew impatient and the made a golden calf to worship and attributed to it what God had done for them.
What happens is truly shocking. Aaron, after making for them an idol to worship and attributing what God had done for them to this golden calf, then turned and built an altar and told the people they would worship God, as in the real God, the next day by having a festival. So he helped them create and idol, and then called them to worship God. Why would Aaron do this? Why would he make them an idol which God had just commanded them not to do and then call them to worship God? Perhaps he knew he had sinned so he felt guilty and was trying to make his wrong right. Or maybe he was trying to cover up what he had done to make it look like it was all about tricking the people into worshipping God. It wasn’t his fault. Either way, at the foundation Aaron knew what the truth was and he disobeyed it, then he tried to cover it up and make up for what he had done.
When we have a self-focused and unstable faith, it will always result in worshiping things other than God. As we read this, it is really hard to believe how they could have done this, until we stop and realize how often we do it in our own lives. When we are struggling and at a low and desperate point we cry out to God, but many times after God has answered our prayer and delivered us, we begin to attribute it to things we did, or other people did, or even to fate or chance, rather than to the hand of God. And then the worst part, is that we try to cover it up. We often try to have both the world and God’s pleasure and blessing. Like Aaron, rather than confess our sins and admit that we worship the things of the world, we just run to worship as if nothing happened and try to prove to ourselves and to the world around us that we are faithful Christians. We’re really not that bad after all, right?
I think the saddest thing about the Israelites is that because they were so unstable and focused on their situation, they failed to see God. They failed to see that God was right there with them the entire time, that He had a plan for their lives He intended to carry out and it was good, and despite their ungrateful complaining, He always provided for their needs, giving them exactly what they needed. For you and I, that is truly all we need to know. That God is with us at all times, that He has a plan for our lives that is good, and that He will always meet our very needs. So let’s learn from the sad mistakes of the Israelites to stand firmly in our faith and to put our eyes on Him, on the truth, and on what He has done for us through Jesus.
Questions for discussion and application:
● If you were to sit down with one of the Israelites and explain to them what is wrong with their attitude, how would you explain it to them?
● Where do you see yourself in this story? (i.e. Do you struggle with a self-centered faith or an unstable faith? explain…)
● For next week begin reading the stories about David in the Jesus Storybook Bible, p.116-135