Peter Misselbrook's Blog
22/02/2019 - Exodus 12:1-28 – Passover preparations

The Lord is about to come down in judgment upon Egypt and to redeem his people from slavery. But when God comes down in judgment, no-one is safe. Hence the elaborate preparations that needed to be made for that night.

Some are practical preparations to get ready for sudden travel. That night, the Israelites are to remain clothed with their cloaks tucked into their belts, sandals on their feet and staff in hand ready for an immediate and rapid exit. Nor will they have time to allow their bread to rise; they will have to eat unleavened bread.

Other preparations are for their protection. Each household is to take a lamb, the meat of which will be sufficient to feed the family. They are to kill the lamb in the evening and to collect the blood in a basin. Then they are to take a bunch of hyssop to use like a paintbrush, dip it in the blood and paint the sides and tops of the doorframes of their house. None of the family is to leave the house that night. When the Lord comes down in judgment he will see the blood painted on the doorframes and will pass over that house. It will be spared from judgment because a lamb has been sacrificed. There will be a death in every household in Egypt that night: in the Egyptian households, the death of the firstborn; in the Israelite households, the death of the Passover lamb.

God's judgment that night is not visited solely upon Pharaoh and his people. God says, "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord [or, I am Yahweh]." (v.12) This is the final demonstration that the Lord, Yahweh, God of the Israelites is the living God, the God who is with his people to accomplish all that he has promised. There is no other god like him. The multitude of the gods of Egypt are shown up also for what they are – mere cardboard cut-outs; powerless idols.

This momentous act of judgment and of salvation will be remembered forever in Israel. It will mark the start of a new year for them and will be celebrated annually, recalling the bitterness of their slavery as they eat bitter herbs and celebrating their salvation with joy as they feast together on the roast lamb. The salvation of God creates a perpetual new beginning for his people.

When God comes down in judgment, no-one is safe. We all fall short of what God calls us to be; we are all deserving of his judgment. But God has provided a lamb for us; Christ our Passover has been sacrificed and his shed blood keeps us safe from the wrath to come. He is our salvation and redemption. There is no safety except in him; there is no fear of judgment when we shelter in him and his shed blood. This is what we celebrate together when we take part in a Communion Service.

None other Lamb, none other name,
none other hope in heav'n or earth or sea,
none other hiding place from guilt and shame,
none beside thee!

Christina Rossetti

Holy and Almighty God, we give you thanks for Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Thank you that he shed his blood for us and died in our place. Thank you for the salvation and new beginning we have in him. Help us to celebrate this salvation daily by living the life you call us to live – a life free from the 'yeast' of malice and wickedness.

21/02/2019 - Exodus 11:1-10 – God's threat to kill the firstborn

The Lord told Moses that the last plague will make Pharaoh, and with him all of the people of Egypt, want to be rid of the Israelites; indeed, they will pay them to leave. The Lord is going to come down in judgment. He will strike dead the firstborn in every home in Egypt but will ensure that his people are kept safe; not one of them will die.

To understand this act of judgment we need to turn back to words the Lord gave Moses to proclaim when he first confronted Pharaoh. In Exodus 4:21-23 we read,

The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.”’

Israel is God's firstborn son, the one in whom he has invested his purpose to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. Israel had brought blessing to Egypt, saving its people from starvation. But now the Israelites have been enslaved and are being oppressed by the Egyptians who are intent on the destruction of this people whom they perceive as a threat. Pharaoh and the Egyptians have set themselves against the purposes of God. It has become a battle between two powers and in the end there can only be one outcome. If the Egyptians seek to oppress and destroy God's firstborn son, he will strike back and kill their firstborn sons. This is the final showdown through which it will be demonstrated that the living God, the God of Israel, is more powerful than Pharaoh and all the gods of Egypt.

God saves his people by coming down to break the power of those who hold them captive. He broke the power of Egypt that he might free the Israelites. In Jesus, God has come down to save us from captivity to sin and death. Jesus is God's firstborn Son, the one in whom all the purposes of God for blessing have come to rest. He has taken upon himself the calling of Israel to be a light to the nations. But those who opposed Jesus sought to destroy him by nailing him to the cross. There he took upon himself our slavery and oppression and paid the penalty for our sin. But his resurrection demonstrates the supreme power of the living God. He will not let his purposes fail; he will save his people and bring blessing to all the earth and its peoples. By his resurrection he has broken death's stranglehold on our lives and has brought us out of darkness into light.

The wonder of our redemption lies in this: God did not strike down the firstborn of his enemies but gave his own firstborn Son over to oppression and death that we might be set free. Here God displays the depth of his love for our world in all its sin and need.

The risen Lord Jesus is still at work liberating people from the powers that hold them captive and bringing them into the glorious freedom of the children of God. He will not rest until all peoples have come to know his saving power. And one day he will return to transform the very fabric of our damaged, groaning and dying world, that the creation itself may be released from its slavery and rejoice in its long promised freedom.

Father God, thank you that the great battle is over and our freedom has been secured. Thank you that you are pleased to call us your sons and daughters and have given us the Spirit of your Son. Gladly we own you as Abba, Father. Use us we pray to bring the news of your salvation to many others that they too may rejoice in the freedom of the children of God.

20/02/2019 - Exodus 10:1-29 – Locusts and darkness

The battle between the God of Abraham and Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is approaching its crisis. God is determined to demonstrate his power through this drawn out battle so that the whole of Egypt will acknowledge that the Lord is the living God (10:2). Once more Moses goes to speak with Pharaoh. If he will not let the Israelites go, the Lord will send a great plague of locusts to cover the land of Egypt and consume what is left of their crops. One commentator, noting the dramatic description of the locusts as "something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now" (v.6), writes, "This locust swarm is not a mere nuisance, as the abundance of frogs was, or a painful inconvenience, as the swarm of flying insects was, but a life-endangering disaster that makes the starvation of the Egyptian people a terrible probability."

Moses' words bring the battle into Pharaoh's court. His officials have had enough and plead with him to let the Israelites go before the land is utterly ruined. But Pharaoh returns to his bargaining; the Israelite men may go into the desert to worship, but they must leave their families and possessions behind to guarantee their return. God however will not settle for half measures, his demand remains the same, "Let my people go."

Pharaoh responds angrily, "The Lord be with you – if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil" (v10). His words make a clever and scornful play on God's name 'Yahweh', the one who is with his people. Pharaoh is saying, "If I were to let you go as you request that would indeed be proof that Yahweh is with you!" Unwittingly he speaks both truthfully and prophetically. Moses and Aaron are driven out of court.

So Egypt is filled with locusts that devour all that was left from the hail. The people of Egypt had experienced provision and blessing at the hands of an Israelite in the days of Joseph; now their opposition to the God of Israel has left them facing famine and death. Pharaoh calls for Moses, confesses that he has done wrong and pleads for the plague – 'this death' – to be removed. But when the locusts are gone he refuses to let the Israelites go.

The God of Israel is in control of the weather and the migration of insects. Nothing, great or small, is beyond his control. But it is not enough to catch a glimpse of his power or goodness and be moved for a moment with fear or love. God looks for the transformed heart and for lasting transformation of character – a work that can be accomplished only by his Spirit. How has God been at work to bring about that transformation in your own life?

The ninth plague brings a supernatural and total darkness over the land of Egypt for three days – though the Israelites, living in Goshen, continue to enjoy sunlight every day. The mighty Egyptian sun god, Amen-Ra, has no power against the God of Israel.

Pharaoh calls for Moses and tells him that all the people may go, men, women and children, but they must leave their livestock behind again to ensure their return. Moses replies that they must take their livestock with them since some will be required for an offering to the Lord. At this Pharaoh tells Moses to get out of his sight. If he appears before Pharaoh again he will be executed. Moses agrees. There will be no more negotiation. God's patience and forbearance has come to an end.

Almighty God, the gods of people's imagination are empty idols, but you are the creator of heaven and earth. The sun, moon and stars do your bidding. Nothing can withstand your power for all things were created by the power of your word. Thank you that you have shown us that it is your purpose to save; even your acts of judgment serve your saving purposes. We stand in awe of you.

19/02/2019 - Exodus 9:1-35 – Livestock, boils and hail

The catalogue of plagues continues, and again God makes a clear distinction between the Egyptians and his own people. This time many of the farm animals in Egypt are struck dead, while none of the Israelites' animals is harmed. Pharaoh even sent messengers to the land of Goshen where the Israelites were living to see whether their cattle had been harmed. It could not have been more obvious to him that the God of the Israelites was able to protect and save his own; yet still he will not let them go. The smell of death hangs heavy in the air of Egypt as a warning of what is yet to come.

The next is a plague of boils – festering boils broke out on the inhabitants of Egypt and their remaining animals. Pharaoh summoned his sorcerers to see what they could do about it, but they could not come to him; they were suffering too much with their boils.

Before the next plague is visited on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, God sends him a word of warning:

"This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth" (9:13-16)

There are two important lessons in here. The first is that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is not eager to judge but is incredibly longsuffering. He is almost pleading with Pharaoh that he might release the Israelites from slavery before worse judgments are visited on him and his people. He is more concerned to break Pharaoh's stubborn will than to destroy him. Nevertheless, God is determined to save his people and will use all the power necessary to accomplish his purposes. And when the story of this great act of salvation spreads, the name and might of the Lord will be "proclaimed in all the earth". The story of this battle will be told down the ages and throughout the world, so that all might hear about the saving power of the living God.

And that is what has happened. Few do not know the story of the Exodus and the way in which God saved Israel from the oppressive power of Egypt. It has become the stuff of songs and hymns as well as the hope for many living under oppression. The Lord God is mighty to save.

But Pharaoh will not listen to the Lord's warning and so a terrible hailstorm is sent upon Egypt. But even here God shows mercy, he warns the Egyptians of the impending storm and tells them to bring their livestock as well as themselves into a place of safety before the storm hits them. Those who listened to God's warning ensured that their cattle and slaves were safely under cover. The storm destroyed the flax and barley harvest and caused severe damage to trees. It even brought Pharaoh to the point of recognising that he had sinned against the Lord. But his momentary conviction of sin was not reflected in a genuine and permanent change of heart; when the storm was over he again refused to let the Israelites go.

Mighty God, thank you that you are patient with us even when we are slow to respond to you. You do not treat us as our sins deserve. Give me, I pray, a true and continuous repentance; a heart that is quickly responsive to your word. Touch and transform the hearts of those who are still resisting your grace that your power and glory may be displayed in salvation rather than judgment.

18/02/2019 - Exodus 7:25-8:32 – Frogs, gnats and flies

One plague follows upon another, but still Pharaoh hardens his heart against the Lord's demand to let his people go. The whole of Egypt is crawling – or more accurately, hopping – with frogs. Again the Egyptian sorcerers manage to add to the plague rather than providing any relief from it. The frogs have even entered the royal palace and hopped into Pharaoh's bed. It is clear that Pharaoh no longer has authority over his own palace; he is losing control.

Pharaoh knows that this is the work of the God of Moses and so he summons Moses and Aaron asking them to pray to the Lord and ask for the frogs to be taken away. Moses appears to restore something of Pharaoh's authority in allowing him to nominate when he wishes the frogs to be removed. However, this is in fact a further demonstration of God's power; the God who sent this plague is alone able to control when it will be removed.

When the frogs died their rotting bodies filled the land with the smell of death and Pharaoh again hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites go. So the air is now filled with gnats. This is too much for the Egyptian sorcerers who tell Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God"; they acknowledge that they are up against a power which exceeds all of their own magic arts. It is not Moses or Aaron who have done these things, the supreme God has done them by his own hand and by his incomparable power. Despite their warning, Pharaoh still will not listen.

The gnats are followed by swarms of flies. God again demonstrates that this plague is not some chance event but is an act of his own judgment. He does this by discriminating between the land occupied by the Egyptians and that occupied by his people. The Egyptians are plagued with flies while the Israelites are left unmolested. The mighty God who has done this is clearly the God of the Israelites.

Thus far, we have focussed on the way the plagues were designed to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians of the power of the living God. But we should not forget that they were also to convince the enslaved Israelites of God's power to save them. After Moses' first confrontation with Pharaoh, the Israelites burden had been increased and they had told Moses that all he had done was to put a sword in Pharaoh's hand to kill them (5:21). God now clearly distinguishes between his people and the Egyptians (8:23). God's acts of power will crush the Egyptians but will save his people. The Israelites can see this process already at work.

Pharaoh is weakening and is ready to compromise. He suggests that the Israelites can have a holiday from their work and celebrate a festival of worship to their God within the land of Egypt. Moses is uncompromising; the Israelites must take a three-day journey into the desert to worship God. Pharaoh concedes; the people may go into the desert to worship as long as they do not go very far. Pharaoh sends Moses away to pray that the plague of flies may cease. But as soon as the flies are gone, Pharaoh hardens his heart again and will not let the Israelites go.

As we saw in the last reading from Exodus, those who resist God's purposes do so to their own hurt and the hurt of those around them. It is a dangerous thing to stand against the living God or to seek to strike bargains with him.

"No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not fear you?" Precious Saviour, I thank you that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to you. Help me to trust in your saving power and never doubt that you are with me. Help me also to watch over my own heart and to fear the sin of rebellion that may so easily lead me away from walking humbly with you.

17/02/2019 - Psalm 19 – The word of the Lord

Psalm 19 declares that God reveals his character to us through the two great books he has written for our learning, the Book of Nature (or Creation) and the Book of Scripture.

The universe around us displays God's glory, greatness and power, from the immensity of space with all its stars and galaxies to the intricacy of the smallest sea creatures and on to the wonder of the atoms from which all things are made. Creation speaks of the greatness of its Creator and of the wisdom and inexhaustible knowledge of him who made it all and delights in it all.

But in a fallen world we easily come to mistaken conclusions about God. We see poverty, disease, pain and death and we ask, "Does God see and care?" The world around us is twisted out of shape and our fallen reading of it is blurred and distorted. The universe is not self-interpreting.

That is why God has revealed himself in the Scriptures. He has spoken to us that he might make himself known. As Isaac Watts put it in quaint English some three centuries ago:

The heavens declare thy glory, Lord,
in ev'ry star thy wisdom shines;
but when our eyes behold thy Word,
we read thy Name in fairer lines.

The rolling sun, the changing light,
and nights and days thy pow'r confess;
but the blest volume thou hast writ
reveals thy justice and thy grace…

John Calvin spoke of the way in which we need the spectacles of Scripture to see the world in right perspective. It is when we read the world through the eyes of this book that we see God's glory and grace displayed throughout creation and see all that we were made to be.

In the Scriptures we have treasures more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey. We have God's law which is a reflection of his own holy character. But this serves only to condemn our unholy characters and would drive us to despair. Isaac Watts rewrote the metrical psalms, the hymns sung by Christians in his day, so that they went beyond their Old Testament context to reflect the additional revelation that has come to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. So his hymn continues:

Thy noblest wonders here we view
in souls renewed and sins forgiv'n;
Lord, cleanse my sins, my soul renew,
and make Thy Word my guide to heav'n.

We rejoice that God has done more than warn of the consequences of straying from his commandment, he has provided us with a Saviour through whom all our transgressions are forgiven. Jesus has redeemed us through his shed blood and has brought us back into fellowship with God our Creator. He is rock on which we stand secure.

But grace does not nullify the demands of God's holy law, rather it enables us to fulfil the righteous requirements of the law through the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ within us. So we echo the words of the psalmist, "Keep your servant … from wilful sins; may they not rule over me."

Father God, give me eyes to see your glory revealed through this world that you have made and especially in people whom you have created in your own image. May I always take great delight in your word and especially in the Lord Jesus Christ, the word incarnate. Help me always to follow him and to live by his power. "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart always be pleasing in your sight, Lord my Rock and my Redeemer."

16/02/2019 - Exodus 6:28-7:24 – Water turned into blood

Moses and Aaron again went to see Pharaoh at God's bidding. Moses was 80 years old at the time and Aaron was 83; God does not do retirement.

Aaron threw his staff on the ground before Pharaoh and it became a snake. Pharaoh was not impressed. He summoned his wise men and sorcerers and told them to do the same. Somehow they managed to make their staffs turn into snakes, but Aaron's staff/snake swallowed up theirs. What Pharaoh had intended as a counter-demonstration of his power had become a demonstration that the Lord is mightier than the gods of Egypt.

But this is only the opening skirmish. The real battle now begins.

The following day Moses and Aaron are sent to meet Pharaoh as he goes out to the river. The Lord had told Moses the words Aaron is to say to Pharaoh: "The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water" (7:16-18). Aaron raised his staff over the waters of the Nile and struck them. The water was changed into blood, the fish in the river died, the water stank and no-one could drink it.

The passage ends with a wonderful touch. The court sorcerers manage to find a little fresh water. Maybe they fetched it from the palace cisterns. Then they changed that also into blood by their own powers. That must really have impressed Pharaoh – they added to the plague rather than bringing relief. They had robbed Pharaoh of the remaining fresh water from which he and his family might have satisfied their thirst.

It should have been clear to Pharaoh from the outset that he is no match for the God of Moses and Aaron – Yahweh, the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who acts to fulfil his promises. But Pharaoh hardens his heart against the demands of God. He would find some way to get by; he would send out slaves to dig for water.

It is dangerous to harden one's heart against God and resist his purposes. Nor are such dangers confined to those who, like Pharaoh, do not know God. Jonah the prophet was well aware of the character of the God he served and yet sought to resist God's will and run away from God's call upon his life. His disobedience resulted in trouble for him and for those around him, though God was gracious in rescuing both him and them from disaster.

Have we sometimes hardened our hearts against the call of God upon our own lives? How is God speaking to you now through his word and by his Spirit? How are you responding?

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah [the place of quarrelling],
    as you did that day at Massah [the place of testing] in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did. [Psalm 95:7b-9]

Almighty God, there is no power in all creation that can stand against your power, nor is anyone able to frustrate your purpose to bless those you have planned to save. Your power is gracious power and your grace is powerful grace. Keep me from having a heart that is hardened against you and your good purposes. Help me always to hear what you are saying to me and to respond quickly with a glad and willing heart.

15/02/2019 - Exodus 6:1-12 – God's promise of freedom

Moses' first appeal to Pharaoh to let the Israelites go had proved a miserable failure. Pharaoh had not only scornfully refused Moses' demand, he had increased the burden on the Israelite slaves. The Israelites had complained to Moses and Moses had complained to God.

In today's passage we read the Lord's response to Moses' complaint. "Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country’" (6:1).

In effect, the Lord is saying, "Did you really think that the Israelites would be released from their slavery just because you told Pharaoh that this is what I was demanding? No, you will not manage to free them by the force of your personality or the strength of your demands. I, the Lord, am the one who will come and rescue my people by my own power. When the Israelites are released, no-one will be in any doubt that you are not the one who has done it. It will be clear that I the living God have broken Pharaoh's power." Moses' initial demand and Pharaoh's initial response were just preparation for the real battle to come – like boxers facing up to one another ahead of their match and making all manner of threats. The posturing is now over and the real battle is about to begin; not a battle between Moses and Pharaoh but between Yahweh the living God and Pharaoh and the so called gods of Egypt.

God then reminds Moses of who he is. He is the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God who made promises to these men and who has revealed himself as God Almighty; nothing can prevent him from keeping his promises. Now he has revealed that his name is Yahweh, the God of the covenant who will be with his people to do all he has promised. He has heard the Israelites' groans and has come down to save them.

Moses is to go to the Israelites with this message from God, "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD" (6:6-8).

Notice the repeated "I" in these verses. The emphasis is upon what the Lord himself will do precisely because he is the LORD, Yahweh, their God. The rescue of the Israelites from Egypt will be a powerful demonstration that their God is like no other; he is the living God who hears and acts to save his people and bring them to live with him.

Despite these words, the Israelites do not believe Moses, nor is Moses keen on renewed confrontation with Pharaoh. Their experience of past failure makes them reluctant now to trust God and to take him at his word.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the living God who has not been content to leave us in slavery to sin. God has seen our plight and has come down to rescue us by his own power through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can trust him to do for us all that he has promised. We need not allow our own experience of failure to turn us away from trust in God.

Almighty God, I thank you that you save by your own power and are not limited by the failures of your people. Since you did not spare your own Son but gave him up for us all, fill us with the assurance that nothing will ever separate us from your love. You will be faithful to all your promises and will bring us safe to glory.

Peter Misselbrook