Kingdom and Covenant, Part 5

In the last few posts, I have been unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. In this post, I continue with part 5 of the story – the exodus, Sinai, and the conquering of the land…

The Covenant with Israel: The King Creates a People

A. Exodus

While the growth of the nation of Israel was a result of God’s blessings, it also caused problems with the Egyptians. The King of Egypt enslaved them and began killing their babies. They were completely helpless to change their situation.

moses-and-the-burning-bush-deana-harveyGod called Moses to lead the rescue of his people. Through Moses, God demanded the King of Egypt to ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’ The son is the nation of Israel.

Pharaoh refused to listen to God, challenging God’s power to rescue his people. Therefore, the rescue of Israel would come through the judgment of Egypt. God sent 10 plagues upon the Egyptians to demonstrate his power, the last of which was plague of death. God decreed that the firstborn in every Egyptian home would die. However, distinguished his people by commanding them to kill a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their homes. When God went through the land of Egypt to destroy the firstborn sons, he passed over the homes that had blood on the doors.

Following this plague, Pharaoh let the people of Israel God. God rescued his people in great power.

B. Covenant

After leaving Egypt and crossing the sea, God led the Israelites to Mt. Sinai where he made a covenant with them. At first, the covenant was to be much like the covenant God made with Abraham. They were to love and obey God, just like the patriarchs were called to do. In fact, God said that the people of Israel were to be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.

They were to worship and obey, like God demanded of Adam. They were to be priests to the world so that others would be blessed through them. They were to be holy – different, set apart for God’s special purposes.sinai painting

The problem, like before, was sin. Israel, the corporate son of God, refused to listen and obey. Therefore, God added law to the covenant. The law was given as a standard of God’s holiness in all areas of life. In addition, the law established Israel as a nation, setting them apart as the people of God.

Following the making of the covenant, God led Israel into the wilderness where he protected them and provided for their needs. He commanded them to build the tabernacle, a tent that symbolized God’s presence with them. Despite all this, the people rebelled in the wilderness. They, like Adam, rebelled against their loving father and brought shame on themselves. They broke their covenant relationship with God and lost his blessings. Therefore, God punished them by not allowing any of the first generation of Israelites to enter the promised land.

Nevertheless, God was gracious. He continued giving them his word and promised that the second generation would enter the land that God promised to give Abraham and his descendants.

Despite the failure of Israel, God’s promises remained. Throughout the story of the wilderness wonderings, God reminded the people of the coming one – the seed of the woman who would be a prophet and king. He represented hope. God also promised that a new Moses would come – a prophet like Moses who would perfectly speak God’s word.

C. In the Land

rh-fallofjericho3After the death of the first generation, including Moses, God was ready to fulfill another part of his promise to Abraham. God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel into the land that God promised to give them. Joshua courageously led the people into Canaan where God gave them the land. The conquest of the land included many miraculous victories that demonstrated God’s presence and power with his people.

However, Israel quickly forgot God’s mighty acts for them and demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations. God gave them a king, Saul. At first, Saul seemed to be a strong leader, but soon his heart turned from trusting God to trusting himself. God removed his Spirit from Saul and chose another, David.

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Exodus 14 as Missional Motivation

“Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15)

crossing the sea paintingThe exodus is a central event in the Bible and has clear goal – for God to plant his covenant people in their land and to dwell with them. While the goal is central, the process of achieving the goal is important and, in many ways, directly applicable to the work of mission.

Exodus 14 is a clear example. This is the familiar story of the Israelites escape through the sea on dry ground. Perhaps the story is so familiar that we miss some of the details. I’d like to draw attention to a few of these and apply some biblical-theological thinking to mission.

1. God’s ways are not always the easiest or most pleasant. 

In verse 1, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to turn back. Remember the context – they had only just escaped from Egypt and likely had the feeling of ‘run for your life’ within their hearts. Yet, instead of continuing to run, God calls them to turn back toward the enemy. This was an angry enemy coming with a powerful army. The situation is less than comfortable. Why does God do this?

2. God’s ways are for his glory and our good

Repeated throughout the passage is the clear statement of God’s purpose – “that I may gain glory over Pharaoh” and so that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” God does all things for the glory of his name. In his grace, the achievement of glory and honor also results in the rescue of his people. While sometimes strange, God’s glorious acts are also our greatest good.

3. God’s ways are always consistent

Throughout the first 13 chapters of Exodus, there have been constant reminders that the events taking place are in keeping with God’s covenant promises to Abraham. He promises to make Abraham into a great nation and to bless the world through his family. What if Abraham’s family dies at the hands of Pharoah or in the sea? God’s promises would fail, which is impossible. Thus, the rescue of Israel is a certainty.

But, there’s more. The escape through the sea is depicted in creational terms. Notice the following:

Light and Darkness (Ex. 14:20-21)
Separation of waters (Ex. 14:21)
Dry land emerges from the sea (Ex. 14:21)
Wind – same word as Spirit (Ex. 14:21)

Of course, like the creation account, everything in this chapter takes place by the word of God.

The point of this seems to be 1) to demonstrate the consistent character of God in keeping his creational and covenant promises and 2) to remind the Israelites that their God is the God of creation. Therefore, they need not fear. He is creating his covenant people in fulfillment of his original purposes for creation. The Sinai covenant will fill out the details, but the connections with creation make clear that God is at work for his glory and the good of his people. They need only to trust him and move forward.

How might this apply to mission?world map

The work of mission will always include suffering and the temptation to quit or complain. In those times, our motivation to continue is in the character and faithfulness of God. The exodus event served as a constant reminder of identity of Israel’s God and thus as motivation for faithfulness to the task to which they were called.

Biblical theology helps us see the faithfulness of our God to rescue his people, keep his promises, and glorify his own name. The call of mission is to join him in this work, resting in his power to complete the task.

Sometimes God takes us down the less than pleasant path, but this is for his glory and our good. The question is whether we will cry out or move forward.