Yikes [Exodus 11]
Click here for the Word Doc..
Click here for the PDF..
Yikes- October 16, 2022
You know, I do this thing when I’m prepping my sermon calendar – I try to map it out for a whole year. First we’ll read this area, and then we’ll shift and read some of this – and I’m trying to show you guys that the bible is an incredible text that teaches us about the character of God and helps us love him more. But sometimes there are really challenging passages, things a lot of pastors just straight up avoid. Now, I also want to avoid those passages – but when I’m planning I get all crazy and inspired. I put it in the calendar and I think, “oh man, that’s going to be tough – but it’ll be a good challenge.” Basically, what I’m trying to say is that “past JJ” that guy who does all the planning for the sermons? He’s a jerk. And today’s text is tough. I’m just going to admit it from the beginning.
So here’s what I’m going to do - I’m going to describe to you something totally normal from my childhood, and I want you to imagine this happening in the modern world year of our lord two thousand and twenty two. Growing up as a kid back in the 90’s – Halloween was awesome. Costumes you had to figure out how to fit on the outside of your winter coat because it was always just a little bit too cold. Running around the neighborhood picking up free candy. Problem was, my mother was a dentist. She always let us go trick or treating, she was cool about it – but she was NOT interested in handing out candy to all the neighborhood kids. And we didn’t want to be one of those houses that hands out raisins or pencils or whatever – you don’t want to be that house. Now my mom makes really awesome brownies…and while they’re not great for your teeth – they’re better than candy bars. Does anybody see where this is going? My mother would make, from scratch, cut and then individually wrap hundreds of brownies to put in the neighborhood kid’s bags instead of candy. We were known for it in the neighborhood. We became the brownie house – and the neighborhood kids would lose their minds for them. Now, of course – homemade treats is a little unusual. I mean, nobody actually worried about problems with the candy, but for anyone who might have questions or concerns my mother would put our name and home address on a little slip of paper and wrap that in with the brownie for distribution to hundreds of strangers. [pause] Anybody think we could get away with that today? How many times in life do we speak of the past, even a time within our lifetime and we say, “it was a different world back then”? Now why am I telling you this – because I want you to realize that there are different standards and different values for different time periods. What we might consider horrifying or hilariously inappropriate was actually normal for kids even just a few years ago! Now imagine the world hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
Context is important. We might have visceral and even violent reactions to what we consider hugely problematic stories from a different time and a different place with different values. And I want to be clear – context does not excuse bad things. But it helps us better understand what is going on, and when you use it properly it can open up a pathway for you to better understand the character of God. Today we’re jumping back into the book of Exodus with chapter that might possibly contain the most uncomfortable story ever. Let’s take a look.
Now, before we dive in – let’s place ourselves in the story a little bit. We’ve been following the progress of Israel for a while. With the story of Joseph, he and his brothers move to Egypt and they do really well for a time – but then over the years the nation of Israel slips under Egyptian control – ultimately the people wind up completely enslaved. Fast forward four hundred years, they have been in slavery for generations and God has determined that he will get them out. He uses a man named Moses to warn Pharaoh of the coming plagues – and we’ve been through nine of them, but every time Pharoah changes his mind and hardens his heart and refuses to let Israel go. And now it’s time for the tenth and final plague.
[read v.1-3] Now you guys know the tenth plague – the death of the firstborn is infamous. And I gotta tell you, for a very short chapter – just ten verses – this is a really weird place to start. The people of Egypt suddenly change their hearts and now they love the Israelites. It’s almost miraculous the shift, as the Egyptians start to value Israelites as if they were actually people and not just slaves. Then we get to the tough stuff
[read v.4-5]. You know, for all the times I have heard the story of Israel in Egypt, and all the movies I’ve seen – I think we really avoid reading this part and so – honestly? I didn’t realize that the firstborn livestock died too. But here’s something important – for all of our discomfort with this text, for all of our internal gut clenching and unease - the bible also knows that what’s happening is shocking. They’re not flippant with what’s going on. Hear the response, [read v.6-7]. A great cry – the most significant and devastating event in Egypt’s life – past, present and future. But Israel, who back in chapter 4 God refers to as his first-born child – not even a dog will snarl against Israel. Now, this is such a significant event, the tenth plague literally adjusts the calendar for the nation of Israel.
We’re going to look at chapter 12 next week, but we can get into a little bit to complete the story here today. Chapter 12, verse 1 says [read v.1-2]. This is the inauguration of your freedom, this is the birthplace of Israel as a free nation. And then in the next couple of verses they describe the sacrifice that Israel must do. Take an unblemished animal, a firstborn male – verse 7 says [read it]. You put blood on the doorposts and that sets the stage. [read v.12-13]. There’s two really important pieces I want you to catch. First, the judgment is against the gods of Egypt. The country of Egypt is under judgment for what they have done. That’s really hard for us to understand because we live in a very individualistic modern context. We don’t punish a household, or a whole people group or a whole country – we only ever try to punish individuals. But that is a very modern construct. Our individualized approach to life is very different than what most of humanity has done for most of history. We see this all over the place – like when the bible says, and the nation of Nineveh repented. Wait, does that mean all of them individually – no, it means the leadership said so and everyone in the people group is included in that. Another example is that old line, “As for me and my house, we will serve the lord.” And well – wait, does that mean you took a vote? Did you sit them down and ask individually what everyone wanted? No – because back in that time, whatever dad decided was the way the household went. It’s very common for the bible to talk about nations that commit sins and nations that suffer consequences of those sins. Like my mom handing out home-made Halloween treats, it’s hard for us to hear that and not think, “what are you doing are you crazy?” But for that time, it was actually normative practice. The bible takes a much more communal approach than our individualized modern context and that makes us uncomfortable.
The second thing I want you to catch is the phrase Passover. I will see the blood of the firstborn, unblemished animal and the judgment will pass over you. When they invented this festival and created the seder meal – they had zero creativity in the naming process. What do we want to name the celebration of that time God’s judgment passed over us? Passover! 10/10 – there you go, that’s just good work.
Okay, so that’s the text we have in front of us this morning. And I hope that I have shown you my method for using the bible to grow closer to God – is that every week we look at the text and we ask ourselves – okay, what is the good news? What do we learn about the character of God from this passage and how does that affect us? And I struggled at first to figure out how to approach this, and it took me a bit, so I’m going to try and walk you through this. The good news this morning is that God condemns evil. The good news is that God is a God of justice. And it’s hard because that does not SOUND like good news – but again, let’s walk through it.
First, there’s a phrase that has been echoing in my mind all week that comes out of Romans. The wages of sin is death. The result of sin is always death. Sin separates us from God, and there is no life apart from God. We are all living in death until we can reconnect to God. The wages of sin is death. And there has been sin in Egypt. The second thing I want you to see is the parallels in the usage of the firstborn. Do you remember the story of Moses in the basket in the river? Why was he in the river? Because Pharaoh was causing the death of the firstborn of all of Israel in a senseless act of oppression. God causing the death of the firstborn of Egypt reverses the role of oppressor and oppressed – because God stands up for the oppressed. It’s a completely senseful act of justice. And I’m not going to get into it – but I hope we can all see the parallels with the blood of the lamb and the blood of HIS son. When I see the blood my judgment will pass over you. God stands up for the enslaved. God reverses the role of oppressed and oppressor. God will hold evil people accountable.
And this is an enduring quality of God. God condemns evil, like – all the time. God is a God of justice, and always has been. I know some folks they try to say, “well that’s Old Testament, he’s not like that anymore.” But I gotta tell you, I’ve read the whole book, even down to the last chapter – and I’m not sure he’s exactly mellowed out by Revelation. God is a God of Justice who condemns evil. He's not going to let it stand. And think about it – what did we think was going to happen? Egypt was going to enslave Israel and slaughter them for generations, for four hundred years and then God was going to throw some frogs and bugs at them and just – you know, we’re cool, right? And look, I get it – we have sanitized our world such that we cannot fathom death, we cannot fathom consequences to action. And I like that about the modern world – I’m really glad that the world is less violent and graphic than it used to be. My child has disobeyed me – I’ll take away your game system.
Here's a silly example – have you ever read the original story of the Little Mermaid? Like the cartoon version that came out back in the late 80’s, classic Disney film. Little mermaid girl, wants to grow legs so she can chase after a boy – and her father, the great Poseidan figures that’s not a great idea for a 16 year old girl. And in the Disney version, spoiler alert, she ignores her father, goes after the boy and at the end the dad shrugs, waves his magic wand and gives her whatever she wants. Which despite the fact that I absolutely loved the film as a child – I’m realizing now that’s not a great message to be giving children. But in the original story, written by Hans Christian Anderson in the 1830’s? It’s actually a tragedy, it’s a horrifying story told as a warning that “hey, children should actually listen to their parents.” And that’s not the only one – the conspiracy goes deep. If you ever want to ruin your childhood, go read the original stories of the Disney classics. But Disney updated them on purpose, because we live in a less graphic and less violent society. And that’s good – I’m glad! But none of our discomfort changes the core fact that sin brings death, the wages of sin is death, sin brings judgment. Our God condemns evil, he sides with those who are oppressed and he is a God of justice.
Let me come at it from another angle. Every time I get close to this text, I have this urge to get up here and try to explain to you why this story is NOT as horrifying as it looks. Like, I need to apologize for the true God of justice who condemns evil and sides with the oppressed. Oh he’s not normally like this, you know how it is – he had a hard week. Don’t judge him by this one incident. We all have bad days. But what if we’re supposed to be horrified? What if what we are witnessing is the consequence of sin? What if what we are witnessing is the punishment of Egypt because of what they did to Israel. This is what our God does when those in power enslave the oppressed. Like, I don’t know how a slave owner in US history could read this and not shake in their boots. When one group oppresses another group, our God who is a God of justice comes in and flips the script. He will take the oppressor and the oppressed and reverse their roles. He will pursue justice and set the captive free. It’s an extremely uncomfortable text, but the good news is great news. God fights for the downtrodden and the oppressed. The wages of sin is death. This is what it looks like to be far away from God, and it horrifies us because we are not designed to be far away from God. We’re not designed to oppress people. We are designed to be God’s children, where not even a dog will snarl in our direction.
Alright, there’s two quick points of application and then we’re done. First, I want you to realize that the evil in your life is not your identity. To put it in political lingo, what I’m trying to tell you is that our God is not soft on crime. There are consequences for sin, and God sides with the oppressed. God is not soft on crime, but he is incredibly soft on the criminals. We all have sin, but your sin is not your identity. One of the things that absolutely blows my mind about the story of Egypt’s reckoning is that God offers them a way out. Do you remember with the plague of hail? I think that was plague 8? Literally Moses went and warned the Egyptians. Send your livestock and workers indoors and they will survive. Listen to God and you will survive. The sacrifice, the blood that Israel put on the doorpost, it’s a demonstration that they understand the wages of sin is death. The wages of sin is death, and where there is the blood of the lamb – that is a recognition of that death, and so the judgment passes over. Your sin is not your identity. It’s not essential to who you are. Your sin, covered in the blood of the lamb, is gone. The name God has for you is not oppressor. It’s not sinner. It’s not evil. The name God has for you is beloved child. God takes sin seriously, so seriously that he shed his blood to change your name.
Second application and challenge for you today - I’m going to pull from the minor prophets – because they were all about God holding people accountable for sin. Micah 6:8. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. When we look at the judgment of Egypt, the reversal of oppressor and oppressed. When we see what God does to those who do not do justice – that should inspire us to do justice. Do justice. We need to watch out for people in our society who are being oppressed. I think so many of us get so distracted by how uncomfortable this story makes us that we literally forget that the main message here is “hey, don’t be like Egypt.” Do justice instead. Now, of course, all of us are going to make mistakes on that, and so we need to love mercy. Do justice, and understand that when we make mistakes we can love God’s mercy. And all of that leads us to walk humbly with our God. Our God is an incredible God of justice who condemns evil and those who oppress, but there is mercy found in the blood of the lamb – a recognition that the wages of sin is death, but in Jesus (the lamb) there is life.
Blech, okay – we made it. It’s an uncomfortable text, but it leads us to a better understanding of our incredible God. A God who stands up for the enslaved, holds people and nations accountable, who leads the strong with the weak, who reverses the roles of oppressed and oppressor. So let me leave you with this. First, if your kid comes home from trick or treating with a home-made brownie, maybe it’s not so bad. Second, may you realize that the wages of sin is death, but sin is not the name that God has for you. There is a way through the blood of Jesus to pass over death. And third, may you do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Amen.