NOTES on Hebrews
11:29 (click here for study)
On the night of the Passover, Israel left Egypt. Under Moses' leadership and the direction of God, they left bearing a significant fortune in jewelry the Egyptians had given them. (Exodus 12:36) They were also armed for battle. (Exodus 13:18) Six thousand men plus women, children, and livestock left Egypt on foot that night. "Many other people went up with them," says Exodus 12:38. God had made provisions for people not of Hebrew blood to observe Passover with the Hebrews that night. The requirement they had to meet was that all males in the household had to be circumcised. (Exodus 12:48-49)
In spite of their bravado and their arms, Israel was not prepared to meet the Philistines through whose country they would march if they took the shortest route to Canaan.
"If they face war," God said, "they might change their minds and return to Egypt." (Ex. 13:17) So he led them through the desert and toward the Red Sea.
God made himself known visibly to the Israelites as they commenced their exodus. He led them himself in the form of a pillar of cloud during the day, and during the night by a pillar of fire. With the light of the pillar of fire, the Israelites could travel at night as well as during the day.
After the incredible impact of experiencing the Passover, of hearing the cries rising into the night from the Egyptian homes where the firstborn had been killed, and then of fleeing by foot in the middle of the night to leave what had been home for over 400 years to go to a place they did not know, the Israelites were undoubtedly overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. They were not prepared for God's next move.
God instructed Moses to have the people turn back and camp beside the Red Sea. Then God announced his amazing and sovereign plan.
"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." (Exodus 14:4)
God could have let Pharaoh experience relief that the Israelites had gone along with the plagues, but God wasn't finished with the Egyptians. God was in the process of saving Israel and bringing them to their promised place of rest, but he also wanted to reveal himself to Egypt.
The story of salvation, from creation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is preserved in the story of Israel. From God's chosen people came the Messiah, God incarnate. God gave Israel strict laws and traditions to keep their bloodline pure, to preserve the purity of the Seed promised to Abraham through Isaac. To Israel God entrusted the prophecies and the rituals that pointed to Jesus. God preserved the people of Israel through centuries of obedience, disobedience, and exile. He created them; he loved them; he revealed himself through them.
The children of Israel, however, were not the only people God wanted to save. God's plan was to save the world, to bring all people to the realization of who he is. He wanted all nations to know that He is the true God. Egypt was the world from which he called Israel. It was also part of the world he wanted to save. Through the events of the exodus of his people, God wanted Egypt to come to recognize him as the sovereign Lord.
The Israelites, not knowing God's big plan, were terrified when they saw Egyptians coming after them.
"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?" they screamed at Moses. "What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you 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." (Exodus 14:11-12)
Moses had a surprising answer for the Israelites, armed but impotent with fear. "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Exodus 14:13-14)
The Israelites had left Egypt full of the wonder and promise of their deliverance. They left armed for battle. They had no idea that they were completely unprepared to face an enemy. They were full of bravado, but they had no training, courage, or substance. When they saw Pharaoh pursuing them, their inflated arrogance turned into blustering blame. They didn't think to see themselves as incompetent; they blamed Moses for overpowering their "good sense" and bringing them to the desert to die. They certainly didn't see God at work.
God's answer for Israel defied all human logic. The Israelites saw their situation in black and white: they were doomed to die at the hands of angry Egyptians. The only way this doom could have been prevented would have been to stay in Egypt. God's answers, however, always open up reality we cannot see on our own. The thought of God performing a miracle that would save them, confront the Egyptians with truth, and glorify himself could not have crossed their minds. They had no idea about living in the rest that comes from allowing God to work for them.
Moses' answer to the Israelites made it clear that they were going to play no part at all in getting themselves out of danger. Their only requirement was to "be still". They were not going to participate in a providential rescue; they were going to experience one. They were not to help or insert themselves in any way. They were to be still and allow the battle to belong to God. They had to let go of their grand ideas of being independent and ready to establish themselves as a people with whom the nations would now have to reckon. They were completely unable to save themselves or even to help. They had to wait for God to act. And when God acted, he accomplished more than the Israelites could have.
Throughout their history God reminded Israel to stand still and to rest while he displayed his sovereignty and cared for them. When Moses met God to receive the second set of stone tablets, God reassured him, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give your rest." (Ex. 33:14) When Israel asked for a king against God's wishes, Samuel asked them to "stand still and see" God's response, and God sent a thunderstorm on their harvest-ready grain. (1 Samuel 12:16-17)
David wrote, "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their waysFor evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land." (Psalm 37:7-8)
Further, he wrote, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)
"The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O lord, have delivered my soul from deaththat I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living." (Psalm 116:6-9)
Isaiah wrote to disobedient Israel, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it." (Isaiah 30:15)
When Zechariah prophesied the coming of the Messiah he said, "Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling." (Zech. 2:13)
God in his sovereignty accomplishes his purposes regardless of our manipulation or franticness. When we learn that we can trust God to care for us, fight our battles, and accomplish his will for us, when we learn to rest and trust him with all of our lives, we will begin to experience peace and resolution. We will begin to experience God's love touching us deeply and with healing.
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Echoing the promise of God's rest proclaimed throughout Scripture, the author of Hebrews declares, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his." (Hebrews 4:9)
New Covenant Rest
For us in the New Covenant, Jesus has completed the work promised from the creation of the world: he has come to earth, the Seed promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he died and rose again, breaking forever the curse of sin on those who believe. God still does our fighting for us, but we understand it more personally than did most of the Israelites. He broke forever the power of the enemy, Satan, by his death and resurrection. (Colossians 2:15) Now we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us intimately. He gives us God's words when we're being mistreated for His sake. (Matthew 10:19-20) The Holy Spirit "arms" us with truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God. These things protect us from evil and its attacks. (Ephesians 6:8-14) Ultimately, Jesus comes as the judge, and he personally destroys evil. (Revelation 19:11-16)
Back to Egypt
Meanwhile, while God was fighting for Israel as they simply watched and were still, he was revealing his sovereignty and divine identity to the Egyptians.
"I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them," God said. "And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen." (Exodus 14:17-18)
God arranged for Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites and to drown in the Red Sea. God, however, did not orchestrate this tragedy to punish the Egyptians. This drowning was not God's final judgment on Egypt. The entire purpose of this dreadful event was to demonstrate beyond doubt to the nation of Egypt that He was God alone. The Egyptians had multiple gods, and they refused to consider the Hebrews' God to be any more divine than were theirs.
God, however, wanted to save Egypt. His goal was not just to save the Israelites; he wanted to save Egypt and the rest of the world as well. Here in the early part of Israel's history, God exhibits his grace to a nation besides the Jews. He reveals himself to the Egyptians in a way they can understand. In this story of God glorifying himself through and to the Egyptians, he gives us one of his earliest hints of the church.
The truth that Jews and Gentiles are all God's people was a mystery hidden through the ages until after Jesus' ascension. (Ephesians 3:3-6) This mystery has always been true, but its reality was not clear until after Jesus was born, died, and was resurrected. Throughout the Old Testament, however, God demonstrated his love for all the world. The death of Pharaoh and his army was not capricious or punitive. It was ultimately for Egypt's salvation. God wanted to reveal himself, and the only way he could grab and keep their attention was to do something so decisive and impacting that they could not attribute it to their own gods. God's acts throughout the history of mankind are always for his glory.
Protected by Light
God led and protected Israel through the desert by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. This cloud moved between Israel and Egypt as Pharaoh and his army approached the Hebrew camp by the Red Sea. The paradox in this story is that the same pillar brought light to the Israelites during the night, and it kept the Egyptians in darkness.
God, his truth, and his word are described throughout the Bible as Light.
"The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1)
"for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory." (Isaiah 60:19b)
"In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (John 1:4-5)
"God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see." (1 Timothy 6:15b-16)
"God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5b)
To live in the light means to live in truth. It means giving up our right to live to gratify ourselves. (Romans 13:11-14) It means to be open and vulnerable. When we harbor secrets in our lives, private indulgences that we hide from others out of embarrassment or shame, we are living in darkness. Living in the light means opening up our secrets and private indulgences to the light of Jesus' discipline and forgiveness. It means being willing to let Jesus shine the light of truth on our secrets and allow him to redeem them.
When someone is persisting in self-deception and in deceiving others, however, the light cannot penetrate that darkness. People can refuse to allow the light to reveal their secrets and lies.
"This is the verdict," Jesus said: "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21)
The Egyptians were camped overnight very near the Israelites. God's presence came between the two camps. His presence provided light to the Israelites. His same presence kept the Egyptians in darkness. Had God not been between the two groups, the Egyptians could have seen the Israelites and ambushed them during the night. God, in whom no darkness dwells, kept them in darkness.
The Egyptians did not recognize God to be sovereign. They classified the Israelites' God the same way they classified their own: deities that had power but could be tricked or manipulated. They lived in penetrating spiritual darkness. They were unable to see the truth. Their spiritual blindness was the reason the presence of God was darkness to them.
"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)
The Egyptians were without God. They could not perceive the truth of his divinity and eternity. Their blindness was the reason God took such extreme measures to reveal himself to them.
Many people, however, live in darkness when they think they are living in light. Many people inoculate themselves against a full surrender to light by working out a way to pay lip service to Jesus while clinging to a twisted interpretation of law and grace. They cling to the law while denying the completed work of Jesus. The find comfort in having an external standard against which to measure themselves instead of being accountable to the living God in them.
"We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (2 Corinthians 3:13-16)
Even if we claim to be Christians, if we have not turned away from the old covenant and embraced the completed work of Jesus and the new birth of his Spirit living in us, we are living in darkness. Jesus calls us to let go of our desire to control our lives and our own righteousness. He calls us to embrace the light of salvation by faith through his grace. He calls us to give up our rigidity and secrecy and become vulnerable to his love. He calls us to let him open the doors of our self-deception and let him shine the light of his grace and redemption on us.
God is asking you to be still before him, to receive the light of truth and grace. God wants to reveal his love to you. He wants you to experience him deeply in your soul and intimately in your life. He is calling you to give 100% of yourself and your life to him.
The paradox of knowing God is that his call sounds like he's asking you to give up your freedom. He wants everything about you: your talents, your dreams, your feelings, your temptations, your secrets, your possessions, your commitments. Our natural, dead souls understand this kind of claim as the worst kind of slavery.
Reality, however, is realizing the other side of this paradox. When we do give up everything to Jesus, when we decide to walk into truth and hold nothing back, we discover the most amazing freedom. The love of Jesus changes everything. He gives us identity; he gives us meaning; he gives us everything we need. He gives us strength and patience and hope in place of despair. He redeems our past and transforms our future. He removes our guilt and gives us peace and his righteousness. He teaches us truth, he reveals our needs, and he fills our needs. He gives us a heart that can feel, and he gives us love.
Reality is so much bigger than we thought. We become connected to God, and we enter eternity. Things that never made sense suddenly do.
God wants you not only to experience his love but to give him your heart so you can love him, too. He wants to make his love and strength and presence so tangible to you that you never contemplate self-deception or self-destruction again. He wants to be more real to you than the things you fear. He wants to transform your heart by filling it with love.
God knows your needs. He knows the experiences you need; he knows the people you need; he knows the things you need. He will provide what you need to grow in grace and truth.
Open your heart to God. Let yourself look fully at what you have tried to hide. Bring it into His light. Bring him your confusion, your desperation, your fear. Let your welter of undefined feelings unfold in the light of his love.
Jesus will touch you gently in all the places you are wounded. His grace will heal you; his love will teach you. He will direct you into a life of restoration and meaning.
Praise God for loving the world. Praise Jesus for being our salvation from the creation of the earth. Praise the Holy Spirit for bringing eternity into our hearts and for giving us a new life.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 1, 2001.