Lecture 07: Moses and the Plagues
Let’s pray: Father at this time of year we are thankful for so many things. We are thankful for the death of your Son which was made possible because of his birth. We are thankful for the many joys in our lives. And Father, we understand that we are also to be happy for the sorrows because through the sorrows you show yourself strong. Father, we pray that as we look this morning at the story of Moses that you will give us once again confirmation and an understanding that you were at work and, at the end of the day, all glory does belong to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
In Genesis, back in Chapter 15, we read about Abraham and the covenant that God made with him. We’re going to be looking at a lot of verses this morning, so you’re going to want to open your Bibles and leave them open as we work through, especially the book of Exodus. But back in Genesis 15, starting at verse 13, it reads, “Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs. And they will be servants there and they will be afflicted for 400 years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve and afterwards, they shall come out with great possessions.’” Well, as we continue to read the story we learn that that land is in fact in Egypt because Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, also named Israel, eventually travels to Egypt where his son, Joseph, and the Pharaoh can take care of them during this time of famine. And this is the story that sets the stage for the entire book of Exodus, the second book in the Old Testament. And in Exodus Chapter 1, starting at verse 8, we read, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel’” (in other words, the descendants of Jacob), “‘are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them lest they multiply and if war breaks out they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’” And this decision on the new Pharaoh’s part eventually led to the slavery of the entire nation of Israel and eventually to the murdering of all newborn baby boys.
II. BURNING BUSH (EXODUS 3)
But in a miraculous account when Moses was born, he was saved. Eventually he flees Egypt, he goes to Midian, which is due east out into the desert, and spent forty years of his life there. And then we come to Exodus Chapter 3 and the story of the burning bush. Moses is out taking care of his flocks. He sees a bush that is burning but is not consumed and he goes over to check it out. And in Exodus Chapter 3, starting part way though verse 4, we read, “God called out to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And God said, ‘Do not come near. Take your sandals off your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look at God.” In a rather spectacular way, God gets Moses’ attention and he identifies himself not just as any god, but the God of Moses’ fathers, that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And then starting at verse 7, God spells out to Moses how he is going to use Moses to fulfill his covenant, to keep his promises to Abraham. God says, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them out of the land of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” In other words, “I am about to fulfill my covenantal promises. I promised to Abraham that I would give him offspring. I promised to Abraham that I would give him land. And I am about to bring his offspring out of Egypt to that land that I have promised.” And then down at verse 13, we have one of the most theologically significant paragraphs in the Old Testament as God reveals his name to Moses. Now when my mom and dad decided to call me Bill I asked them once, “Why did you call me Bill? William means ‘conqueror’, I think. I kind of like that.” And they said, “No we just figured that no one can make fun of the name Bill.” It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but of course, that’s not the way it is in the Old Testament. The name describes the essence, the character of the person. And so, God giving his name is of critical importance if we’re going to understand who this God of the covenant is. Verse 13, “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ And they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?’ Then God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.’ And God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name forever and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
A. Three Ideas Included in God’s Name, YHWH
God reveals his name and his name in English transliteration is YHWH. In fact, whenever you see the word, “LORD” in capital letters in your Bible, that’s the translators’ way of saying that they are translating this most important name of God, YHWH. Now it may look kind of like an odd name and that’s because when you speak Hebrew there are vowels, but when you write Hebrew, there are no vowels. So, all we have are the consonants. Unfortunately, we are not absolutely sure exactly what vowels belong with the consonants, and therefore, we are not absolutely sure what God’s name was and what his name meant. We know it is formed from the verb, “I am”, the verb “to be” in English. But we are not absolutely sure and what we have done is taken the vowels from another name of God, Adonai, and stuck them in with (well, we didn’t do it, the Jews did it), the consonants from which we get the name, Yahweh, which came into English as “Jehovah.” Now I say all that because the discussion of Yahweh and what the name means consumes chapters and chapters and books and books and an entire theology as the theologians tried to figure out what God’s name was and is and what it meant, and what it means. And in all the discussion there are at least three things that they are very comfortable with saying, “This is what God’s name means.” First of all, the actual name Yahweh, I AM, is a claim that God exists. That the God of Abraham is the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is very real. He’s not a myth, he’s not a story that my grandma told me about, but he is very real, that God is Yahweh, that God is "I AM”, that I exist. Second of all, in the very name is the claim to uniqueness, is the claim that there is no one else like him. “I am who I am and there is no one else like me.” That refrain comes up all the way through the Bible in Chapter 15, in Moses’ song after they go through the Red Sea in verse 11, Moses sings, “Who is like you, Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” And the answer is, “Absolutely no one.” That the very name “I AM” is a claim to absolute uniqueness. “I am who I am and there is no one else like me.” And thirdly, everyone is agreed that in the name “I AM”, there is the claim for God’s immutability. It’s a good word, it’s a good word we need to know. The doctrine of the immutability of God is the doctrine that God does not change. That’s what it means. “I am immutable, I am unchanging, I am who I am.” Now you and I, at least to some extent, are a product of our experiences, aren’t we? At least to some extent, we are products of our environment. We’ve had forces at work in our lives that have helped, to some degree, shape us into who we are. But God is claiming that none of these external forces have any defining force as to who he is. “I am who I am. Not what other people try to make me be. I am who I am, and therefore, I do not change.” All the way through the Bible this claim is made because God is who he is, he does not change. For example, in the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi 3:6, God says, “For I, Yahweh, do not change. Therefore, you, oh children of Jacob, are not consumed.” In other words, “Because I am who I am and do not change, I will continue to honor my covenantal commitment to you and I will not allow you, my people, to be destroyed.” It is the claim of existence, it is the claim of uniqueness, it is the claim of immutability. On those three points, the commentators and theologians are agreed.
“I am who I am,” God tells Moses. That’s the revelation of himself. Now, of course, God reveals himself not only in his name, but ultimately he also reveals himself in his Son, doesn’t he? And I can’t mention Yahweh without referring to Jesus. In John 14:9 Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” That Jesus is the fullest revelation of who God is, even beyond that of what the name means. But this is why it’s so critical to understand in John Chapter 8 verse 58 when Jesus is fighting with the Jews, he says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” And the Jews understood exactly what Jesus was claiming. Jesus was claiming to be the “I AM.” He was claiming to be Yahweh, the God of the burning bush. That’s why they picked up stones and tried to kill him because they did not believe him. But God is who he is, unique and immutable.
III. MOSES AND AARON HEAD TOWARD EGYPT (4:21-23)
So, God calls Moses, gives him his charge, and Moses heads toward Egypt with his brother Aaron. And what’s interesting in Exodus Chapter 4, God tells Moses what he can expect. Exodus Chapter 4, starting at verse 21, “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yahweh, ‘Israel is my firstborn son. And I say to you, let my son go that he may serve me, but if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” Now while this paragraph gives us lots of information, it certainly raises lots of questions, doesn’t it? I mean, ten times in Exodus the text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. He makes Pharaoh’s heart hard so he will not respond to the miracles. And you scratch your head and think, “Why?! Why are you going to do that, God?” But then there are other questions raised, too, as we read on. Ten times the text says that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Ten times the text says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. And you’re scratching your head and thinking, “Well, who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Did God do it or did Pharaoh do it?” Well, the paragraph raises a lot of questions, but questions that will be answered as we get through the story, but certainly this passage does help us understand the tenth plague. The tenth plague is a difficult plague to understand, is it not? The killing of the firstborn in all of Egypt. And among other things we are told early on that Egypt, if it continues to kill God’s firstborn son, the nation Israel, then he in turn will kill. It’s an act of judgment on their sin.
So, Moses starts to know what to expect. He goes before Pharaoh, Chapter 5 starting at verse 1, “Afterwards Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel. ‘Let my people go that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is Yahweh that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know Yahweh, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.’” Egypt had no shortage of gods. They had their pantheons, they had their structures, but nowhere in the pantheon was a God named Yahweh. Pharaoh says, “Who is this God? I don’t know him. I will not let your people go.” And in the chapters that follow, as the story is unfolded, we see God making two tremendously important statements. The first statement is that God affirms to Moses, he affirms to his children, that he will keep his covenantal promises. Look at Exodus Chapter 6, starting at verse 6, “Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘I am Yahweh and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment on Egypt. I will take you to be my people and I will be your God and you shall know that I am Yahweh, your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” This is what the Exodus is all about. It’s the story of God being faithful to his promises to Abraham, to give him an offspring and to turn that offspring into a mighty nation and to give them a land and to be a blessing through them to the world. And the story of Exodus is the story of God being faithful to that covenantal promise. And the essence of the covenant is stated for the first time here when basically God says, “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” That is a refrain going all the way through the Bible. That’s the essence of the covenant, “I am their God and they are my people. I am obligating myself in a relationship with these people to act as their God, their Savior, their protector, their nourisher. And they in turn are committing to be my people. I will be their God and they will be my people.” And God is saying, “I will do anything, anything necessary to keep my promises, to keep my covenant to be their God so that they will be my people.” That’s what the Exodus is about, it’s not just the story of a bunch of horrible things that happened. It’s the story that God is faithful to his word, and keeps his promises.
But there’s a second statement in these intervening chapters. And it’s an interesting statement because Yahweh says (SPACE AT END OF TAPE). Look at Chapter 7, starting at verse 3, where God says, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and although I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. And then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my host, my people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Here we have the answer to the question that was raised earlier: Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart? God wants to declare his greatness, he wants to declare his name, he wants to declare his glory, he wants to declare who he is to the Egyptians. And if Moses went and said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” and Pharaoh said, “Okay”, there would have been no opportunity. There would have been no acts of mighty judgment by which God could have declared his glory and declared who he is. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not respond to Plague #1. Then he sends Plague #2. Pharaoh’s heart is hard so God sends Plague #3 and so on. That’s what’s going on here. Pharaoh’s hardness of heart is the stage on which God can send all the plagues, and through all ten of the plagues he declares his name and his glory and his power and his wonder. Now, of course, there are other reasons. We know from Genesis 15 that it’s also an act of judgment. But the main point that the text is making is that God has the desire to proclaim his name to the Egyptians. He hardens Pharaoh’s heart and we have ten plagues, not one. And God has ten opportunities to declare his glory to the Egyptians.
I know some people might look at that and they might look at all the hurt and the pain that come through the plagues, especially the tenth, and there’s something inside of us that wants to ask God, “Well, was it worth it? Was it really worth it, God, to bring that amount of pain to Egypt in order to declare your name?” God answers, “Yes it was.” In Chapter 14, He’s going to specifically talk about his glory. And God’s answer is that “My glory is more important than all the hurt and pain that are caused by the ten plagues. Even the killing of the firstborn.” We’ll talk more about this in Chapter 14.
IV. TEN PLAGUES (7:14 - CHAPTER 10)
So, the stage is set and in Exodus Chapter 7, verse 14, all the way through Chapter 10, we have the ten plagues. And they all follow the same basic scenario. Moses confronts Pharaoh and says, “Let the children of Israel go out into the desert to worship their God.” Pharaoh’s heart is hard. He refuses to let them go. The plague comes and in most cases Pharaoh says, “Oh I was wrong. Moses, pray that God take the plagues away and then I’ll let the people go.” Moses prays, the plague is removed and then, of course, Pharaoh changes his mind and does not let the people go because his heart is hard. So, we start with Plague #1 of turning the Nile to blood. Plague #2 of sending the frogs to infest the entire land of Egypt. #3 sending gnats to infest Egypt. Plague #4 to send the flies to infest Egypt. And then Plague #5, things change, because God makes the point that from here on out the plagues are only for Egypt, they are not going to be visited on his people. He is going to make a distinction between Egypt and the people of Israel. And so, God sends Plague #5 and kills much of the livestock. He sends the boils that even Pharaoh’s magicians can’t stand because of the boils on their feet. He sends the hail to kill animals and people and the crops. He sends locust to kill crops and eventually he sends three days of darkness and we get through the nine plagues. And yet Pharaoh’s heart is hard and he won’t let the children of Israel go. As you’re reading through the story at this point again, there’s another break of a couple of chapters because God is preparing Moses and his people for the tenth plague. He knows that the tenth plague is going to break Pharaoh’s hard heart. He knows the tenth plague is going to cause Pharaoh to release the children of Israel and allow them to plunder the Egyptians. Remember his promise to Abraham in Genesis 15? He’s even going to keep this part of the promise. He’s going to allow the children of Israel to plunder one of the greatest nations that ever existed, that of Egypt.
Look please at Chapter 11, starting at verse 4. God is telling Moses what to say. Exodus 11, starting at verse 4, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die. From the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt such as there has never been nor ever will be again.” In verse 9, “Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.” This is a difficult plague, is it not? It is difficult to understand the killing of the firstborn. It is difficult. You’re feeling it inside you, I feel it inside of me. And yet God is just and loving and has a desire, beyond all else, to declare his name and to declare his glory. Between that and an act of judgment, he is about to kill the firstborn in every family in Egypt because Pharaoh is killing his firstborn.
Chapter 12 is the story of the Passover, if you’re unfamiliar with it, if you’re children are unfamiliar with it, please read it. It is a pivotal chapter; I just don’t have time to go into it. But the Israelites are instructed to kill a sacrificial animal, to put the blood around the door, so that when the angel of death sweeps through Egypt, he will not kill the firstborn in that particular family. And so, we get to Exodus 12, starting at verse 29, “At midnight Yahweh struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt for there was not a house where someone was not dead. And then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up. Go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel and go serve the Lord as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds all have you have said and be gone and bless me also.” Pharaoh’s hard heart was finally broken, and God executed his just and righteous judgment on the nation of Egypt. And Pharaoh sent the Israelites, God’s firstborn, out of the land. And it’s very interesting, look down please at verse 36. These almost sound like afterthoughts or little side comments. “And Yahweh had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians so that they let them have whatever they asked. And thus, they plundered the Egyptians. And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth about 600,000 men on foot besides women and children.” Theological sidebar? Absolutely not. It is the fulfillment of the covenantal promise that God made to Abraham 430 years earlier in Genesis 15. They plundered the Egyptians. God has judged the sinful nation and God is making Abraham into a great nation, isn’t he? There are already 600,000 men plus women and children. God is faithful to his covenantal promise.
Now you hit this part and you say, “Well, that’s the end of the story, isn’t it?” But it’s not because the story of the Exodus is not done until we read through Chapter 14, the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. God sends Moses on a certain path deliberately because it makes the Israelites look to Pharaoh like they don’t know where they’re going and they’re wandering in the desert, they’re going in circles. So, God tells Moses, Chapter 14, starting at verse 3, “Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land. The wilderness has shut them in and I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his hosts. And the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh.” The NIV smooths that one verse out a little bit for us where God says, “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh.” God’s not done. God is not done declaring who he is to the Egyptians and the Israelites. He is not done defining his name. He is not done declaring his glory. And so, he hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh does something that’s really stupid. Pharaoh is told that the Israelites have left, verse 8. Once again Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh, King of Egypt. He thinks, “I want my slaves back.” So, he takes off after them. The Israelites see the Egyptians coming, verse 13, “And Moses says to the people...” It’s one of the great verses in the Bible. If it’s not highlighted in yours, it needs to be. “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of Yahweh which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians who you see today, you shall never see again. Yahweh will fight for you and you have only to be silent.” Ah, if we could learn that lesson we’d be home free, wouldn’t we? So, God tells Moses in verse 15, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” The Red Sea is right there and he’s saying, “Go forward! Lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it that the people of Israel might go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians.” Now God is hardening everyone’s hearts. You can imagine, I would think, being an Egyptian standing there watching the Red Sea parted, and if you’ve seen the movie, both of them, they do a pretty good job of helping us visualize how amazing that sight must have been. And they’re standing there watching the ocean parted. “I’m not going in there! Uh-uh! That’s weird.” But God hardens their hearts. “I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, after the Israelites.” Bad mistake. “And I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
So, you know the story. The children of Israel are beating a path through the parted Red Sea. The Egyptians follow. They get to the other side and God collapses the Red Sea and kills all of the Egyptian army. Quite a story, isn’t it? This is one of those stories that people like to use in arguing against the Bible. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it said, “Well, the Red Sea wasn’t very deep here, it was just very shallow and the Israelites just tromped through the mud.” Great answer. Gee, that’s even a greater miracle. You go, “How?” That means God killed the Egyptians in three inches of water! People have trouble with the God of the universe separating his waters. Very, very small, small God.
V. WHAT DO WE LEARN?
What have we learned from the story of the Exodus? By the way, the “Exodus” is a word made out of two Greek words, as most English words are. “Ex” is a preposition that means “out of” and “hodos” is “the way or path”, and the Exodus is the way out of Egypt. What do we learn? Well, there’s a lot obviously. But what I want to concentrate this morning on, is what we learn from the Exodus about God and his part of the covenant. In the next session, we’re going to learn about our part of the covenant. Oh, the many things that I could share. Let me give you two. Number one: God is faithful. God is faithful to keep his promises and God is faithful to keep his promises to you today. God will do whatever is necessary to keep his promises, to keep his covenant. The Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea become the primary salvation event in the entire Bible, prefiguring the cross, leading up to it, I Peter. And the argument is that if God will do this to save his people he will save you now. All you have to do is flip over to Exodus 15 of the Song of Moses, and you can see this stated for the first time, “I will sing to Yahweh for he has triumphed gloriously. The horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea.” See, there’s your reflection on the Red Sea. And here’s Moses’ conclusion that he draws form God’s faithfulness. “Yahweh is my strength and my song and he is become my salvation. This is my God and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exult him.” If God will do this, if he will bring his children out of Egypt, if he will declare his name to the Egyptians, if he will part the Red Sea and destroy the nation in order to gain glory for himself and to be faithful to his word, then he will be faithful to me and he will be faithful to you today. When times get difficult, we have tendency, don’t we, to become short sighted. We have a tendency when things get difficult to forget about God’s faithfulness in the past. And there’s a tendency in most of us, at least it is in me, to think that while God has been faithful to me in the past, more importantly, he’s been faithful to his promises to me, but this is the exception and God won’t come through this time. There’s that tendency in us, isn’t there?
A. Without Faith It is Impossible to Please God
And yet the Exodus is a cry of faith and without faith it is impossible to please God, Exodus 14:13. “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you today. Yahweh will fight for you and you have only to be silent.” That’s the cry of faith, that’s the cry of Exodus, that even when times are difficult, when we have a tendency to forget God’s past faithfulness to his promises to us, the cry of faith says, “Stand firm. Don’t fear. Be silent and God will be faithful to his promises.” So, to the lonely, God promises “I will never leave you or forsake you,” And the story of the Exodus calls us to remember that the God who makes that promise to you today is the God of the burning bush. And by faith we are called to respond, “Okay, I will not fear.” To those who are burdened, God promises, “My burden is light.” And we must remember that that God is the God of the plagues and the faith of the Exodus causes us to respond, “I will stand firm.” To sinners God promises, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” And when times get tough, we must remember that that is the God who parted the Red Sea and by faith we respond, “Yahweh will fight for me. He will forgive my sins.” Certainly, this is one of the most dominant notions that comes out of the Exodus that God is faithful, he is faithful to keep his promises. And he has made promises as our covenantal God to you and to me, those who are his disciples, and he will be faithful to those promises.
B. God is Most Interested In His Own Glory
But there’s a second truth in the Exodus story, and it is the truth that God is most interested in his own glory. That of all the things that are important to God, the most important thing is himself. Sound strange? It’s not preached much these days, but we HAVE to think this way because this is the Biblical way of thinking about God. God is most interested above everything else in his own glory, thanksgiving and praise being given to him above everything else. Let me define that first in reverse, then we’ll come back and look at it. Sin says, “I am the center of the universe.” Sin says, “I am to pursue my own good.” Sin says, “I am to pursue my own self interests.” Sin says, “I am to praise myself”, right? That’s the whole thrust of sin to remove God from the center of the universe, to remove God from the center of our lives and to put our miserable selves on the throne of our lives and to declare that we are the center of the universe And there are many illustrations of this, I think one of the most powerful ones is the state, and I don’t talk about this often, but the state of many of the churches, and I need to say in America, because you do not find it around the world the way we do in America. Because the focus in so many churches, the focus in the worship service of so many churches, is on how the songs make me feel. And God is proclaimed as existing for my pleasure. And that God is there to take my pain away. And God is this giant Coke machine and we stick in our quarter and God must bless me. And the almighty “I” becomes the center, the focus, of worship. I hope you pay really close attention to the words of the songs that we sing here. This batch of songs we sang this morning were incredible. Of deep theological reflection that I am not the center of the universe and that all praise and all honor and all glory belong not to me, not to Steve, not to you, but to God. What is it called when we put ourselves at the center of everything, when everything is, “Well, how does this make me feel?” It’s called idolatry, isn’t it? It’s called idolatry because I am not the greatest good in this universe. I am not the highest goal. I am not God. And if Sunday morning is about me or about you, if church is about a human being, if our lives are about us, then we are idolaters because we have usurped the place of God and that he alone is to be the center. God is the greatest good. God is our most satisfying joy. He is the center of the universe, and therefore, we must praise him, not ourselves, in everything we do. Whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Do all to the glory of God.” Well, if that is true for us, if God is to be the center of everything, then that is also true of God himself, because if God did not want all glory to come to himself, he would be putting something else in his place, would he not? He would be putting anything in the place where God alone belongs, and therefore, God is most interested in himself. God is most interested in his own glory and anything else, anything less than that for God, would be sin. It’s a different way of looking at things, isn’t it? Of all the writers in the Bible, Isaiah expresses this truth most clearly over and over and over again. Just a couple of passages: Isaiah 42, verse 8, God says, “I am Yahweh. That is my name. My glory I give to no other.” And that’s just not, no other god, that’s to NO ONE else. Isaiah 43, verse 7, He’s talking about his children Israel and how he created the nation. Why did he create the nation Israel? Well, Isaiah 43:7 tells us, “Everyone who is called by my name whom I created for my glory.” Israel was not primarily created for Abraham. Israel was created for God so that through him, through the Israelites, and through the blessings of the Messiah, God would get glory for himself. He is the center of absolutely everything. Isaiah 48, verses 9 and 11, He’s talking about why he’s not going to allow his children to be destroyed. He says, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger.” He was mad with the Jews, he sent them into captivity, but he did not allow them to be destroyed. Why? “For my name’s sake I defer my anger. For the sake of my praise I restrain it for you.” Verse 11, “My glory I will not give to another.” God is pursuing his own glory, his own praise. Now for you and me to do that, it would be idolatry. But for God to pursue his own glory is the only just and righteous thing, even to the point that God is just and holy in meting out judgment and killing the firstborn in every family in Egypt. Because his glory is more important. His glory is so important that he will execute his ten plagues on Egypt as an act of judgment, but mostly as a declaration of his glory and his power and his awesomeness, so that the Egyptians as well as the Israelites will know that he is Yahweh. Is God fair to do this? Absolutely. That is the cry of faith that is the cry of Exodus. In Romans 9, Paul makes the point very clearly, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will harden whomever I want to harden.” This is God’s choice. He is sovereign. He is supreme. He is just. He is loving. And he will do anything to declare his holy name to this sinful world.
Oh, to have the faith to look beyond the immediate, to look beyond the good and the hurt, to have the faith to see in everything, that whatever happens, whatever happens, gives you and me to opportunity to declare the glory of God. What a way to live. I mean, this may be a startling, radical view of God as the center of all life. Why did Jesus let Lazarus die? The disciples come to him and say, “He whom you love is dying.” This is Mary and Martha’s brother, three of Jesus’ very, very best friends. Jesus could have averted the pain, but he says, “I am going to stay here till he’s good and dead, and then I will go see him.” And you say, “Why are you doing that, Jesus?” Jesus says, John 11:14, “It is for the glory of God so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” Jesus is still interested in proclaiming the glory of God and he will use hurt and pain to do what is more important, and that is the declaration of who he is. Look at our working versions of our Essence Statement and our Mission Statement. “We are a people pursuing God in spirit and truth,” and sometimes I think we need to add, “for his glory.” Our Mission Statement, “Shiloh Hills Fellowship exists to make fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. By God’s enabling we will encourage people to pursue God.” He’s in the center of the triangle, right? “To pursue God through prayer, worship, and the Word. And then to pursue discipleship for personal maturity, fellowship for the building up of each other, and outreach for the salvation of others, ALL for the glory of God.” We serve a most amazing God. We serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is absolutely unique. He is absolutely immutable. He is Yahweh, “I AM who I AM.” We serve a God who is absolutely faithful to his covenantal promises to you and to me. And we serve a God whose desire for his glory superseded all else. Let us commit our lives to this radical view of life which makes God and his glory everything.
Let’s pray: Father, we admit that when we hear these kinds of verses, our reaction is to struggle. There are things that we don’t understand. This is our sinful self, our depravity, still at work fighting us. But, God, may the cry of the Exodus, may the cry of faith, be ours that you are more interested in your glory than anything else because you are the greatest joy, you are the greatest satisfaction, you are the center of the universe. Father, may our lives be consumed, looking beyond the immediate, the pain and the hurt, as well as the good, to a desire that whether we are eating or drinking, no matter what we are doing, we do everything so that you receive the praise, you receive the glory, and you receive the honor. Oh God, oh Yahweh, may it be so. Amen.