The People of Israel

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Hebrews 11:29-31

God’s people often find themselves in difficult situations, but remember: when you’re between a rock and a hard place, faith can get you through.

The exciting story of the people of Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt is called the Exodus, and it is told in detail in the Bible book of the same name. Exodus means “a way out” literally. It describes how a ragtag collection of Hebrews managed to find a way out of hopeless bondage in Egypt, not by their own ingenuity or strength but by faith, through the mighty power of God, the Savior. This is how the New Testament writer of the letter to the Hebrews summarizes the whole Exodus event.

By faith [Moses] kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

Heb. 11:28-31, niv

THE PASSOVER

In what is perhaps the defining event of the whole Old Testament, the people of Israel were delivered from slavery in the land of Egypt, but it did not come easy. God had sent Moses to demand Israel’s freedom. “Let my people go!” Moses cried, to which Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, repeatedly said, “Never!” It took the power of God, unleashed in a series of increasingly terrifying plagues, to change Pharaoh’s mind and break his stubborn will. The ten plagues of the Exodus are a kind of preview, actually, on a smaller scale, of the ultimate judgment of the world. God’s people were preserved through them, but God’s enemies – those who resisted him and rejected him in their pride – were destroyed by them. The growing intensity of the plagues served as a warning to people to repent before it is too late. Sometimes trouble can actually be a message of mercy from a God who wants to get our attention so that we do turn to him before we are destroyed.

After a series of natural disasters and storms and outbreaks of disease, the final plague was death itself. It came one horrible night and it struck the Egyptians with devastating consequences, but the people of Israel were spared. God had given instructions to Moses on how they were to be saved. It was by observing a ceremony which God instituted that night called the Passover. There was a special menu for the people to eat (roasted lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread), a special way of eating it (in haste with their bags packed and their coats on and their families gathered ‘round ready to leave at a moment’s notice), and special marks on each house (the blood of the Passover lamb painted around the door with a brush of hyssop leaves).

These details obviously are symbolic. Some parts of the ceremony are easy to understand: the unleavened bread and the hasty eating point to the suddenness of their departure, for the Bible tells us that when the angel of death visited Egypt, Pharaoh on that very night expelled all the people of Israel from the land. And the bitter herbs which accompanied the meal were a symbol of the cruel bondage the people had known in Egypt.

But what of the lamb, the unblemished Passover lamb which had to be sacrificed and eaten, and its blood spread with hyssop leaves on lintel and doorpost? What could these things mean? Surely they weren’t simply to identify the Israelite houses. God knew where his people were living. No, according to the New Testament, these details pointed to truths of the gospel. They conveyed a message whose meaning would only become clear in the death of the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world.

CROSSING THE SEA

But the escape from Egypt on the night of the Passover was only the beginning. No sooner had Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to leave than he had a change of heart and set out after them in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, the people of Israel hadn’t even gotten out of Egypt yet – they were stopped on the edge of the Red Sea. Ahead of them was an impassable sea, behind them an implacable foe. They were, as the old saying goes, “between a rock and a hard place.” By all appearances, it looked as though the Exodus was going to be a shorter flight than the Wright brothers’.

How did they ever get into such a predicament? Notice that it wasn’t through disobedience; they were faithfully following God’s guiding, hand, his pillar of cloud and fire. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you are living by faith and following the Lord you will never run into any serious problems. That is not so. In fact, the walk of faith is never guaranteed to come without any detours or apparent dead ends.

What faith does mean, though, is that if we trust him, God will always open a way for us to get through the obstacles we face. “Fear not . . . when you pass through the waters I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah. 43:2). God did open a way for his people that day. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land,” but when their enemies tried to follow, they were destroyed.

THE WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN

Even that, though, was not the end of Israel’s problems. If you are familiar with the story – and a marvelous story it is, told at length in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – you know that the people went through forty years of ups and downs in the wilderness before they finally came to the brink of the promised land. Hebrews reminds us that, just as faith began the story of the Exodus, so faith brought it to its close: “by faith the walls of Jericho fell” as the people marched around them.

We tend to think that once Israel had finally emerged from their wilderness wanderings, crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, all their problems were over. We forget that the very first thing that confronted them in Canaan was another seemingly impossible obstacle. Jericho was one of the oldest and strongest cities in all the world. Its soldiers were numerous, its defenses impregnable, and that was only the beginning. The Israelite spies sent to scout Jericho found unexpected help there from a woman named Rahab who saved their lives and helped them to escape. For some reason that the Bible does not explain, she decided to cast her lot with Israel and more importantly, Israel’s God. There was no earthly reason for her to do so; everything pointed to Jericho as being on the winning side. But Rahab chose to believe in God, and in the end, it proved to be her salvation.

When it came time to attack Jericho, Israel was issued perhaps the strangest set of orders any commander has ever given to his troops. Listen to this: the people were supposed to march, all of them, quietly around the city once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day, they would march around seven times, then stop, blow a blast on a bunch of horns and have everybody yell as loud as they could. Then the walls were supposed to fall down and they could rush in and conquer the city. Now you will not find those tactics in any military manual anywhere in the world, but really, the people did not have much alternative other than to trust and obey. They did not have the weapons or the capacity to actually conquer the city. God told them to march and blow and shout and that the walls would fall, so that is what they did – and that is what happened! Jericho was destroyed, Rahab and her family were saved, and the people of Israel were started on their conquest of the promised land – all because of faith in God.

FAITH LESSONS

Now the fact that the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament highlights these events must mean that they have important lessons to teach us about the meaning of faith. They do. They show us just what faith can do. Faith can deliver us from sin. Remember the Passover and the blood on the doorposts? The Bible says that Jesus, the Son of God, is the true Passover Lamb whose death delivers God’s people from the bondage of sin. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us,” wrote the apostle Paul. Faith is the brush by which you can apply the blood of Jesus to your own life and so escape death. “If the blood of a lamb then preserved the Jews unhurt in the midst of so great a destruction,” said the greatest preacher of the ancient world, John Chrysostom, “much more will the blood of Christ save us for whom it has been sprinkled not on our doorposts but in our souls.” You well never be set free from the grip of sin through your own strength, or by exercising your will power, or self discipline. You will never be able to atone for the wrong things that you have done and cleanse yourself of guilt except by trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Faith can also overcome evil . No matter how strong and frightening the powers of darkness seem to be, we know that those who trust in God will defeat them. Jesus said that faith in him as the Son of God is the rock on which he builds his church and that the very gates of hell will not prevail against it. Like the walls of Jericho, all the strongholds of evil in our cultures and societies must come tumbling down when confronted with the power of the Word of God in the lives of people who are simply obeying it.

And faith can overcome evil in your life too. It can conquer the strongholds of sin that confront you. It can defeat the giants of despair. These things will not happen in our own strength but only by trusting in God’s power and living by his word.

And finally, faith can make you one of the people of God. It is utterly remarkable that of all the heroes of faith in the Old Testament, Rahab is singled out by name. She is an unlikely candidate for inclusion in faith’s Hall of Fame for at least three reasons. First, she was a woman, and women in the ancient world were generally considered to be second class at best. Second, she was a Canaanite, one of the “enemy.” “God,” ran an ancient rabbinic prayer, “I thank Thee that I am neither a woman nor a gentile.” Well, Rahab was both. That is not all. She was also a prostitute; not exactly a shining example of virtue! Remember, salvation is not a reward for living a good life; it is a gift of grace that is bestowed upon those who believe in Jesus Christ. Whatever she was and had been, when the decisive moment came, Rahab chose faith. By faith she decided to identify with the people of God, and that decision was her salvation. She became one of them.

You know, you can too. Salvation from sin, victory over evil, new life as a child of God, these can all be yours, but only by faith. And it has to be your faith. You must decide. You must choose. No one else can make the decision to believe for you. You must commit yourself unconditionally to the Lord Jesus. Now is the time to do it!