Exodus 32

We now take a three-chapter break from the Tabernacle, with a stark reminder of how remarkable it is that God ever decides to dwell with people. It is very much a case of going from the sublime to the ridiculous ...

The debacle of the golden calf begins with the people getting impatient (v.1) - they can't seem to cope for very long without Moses to lead them. And although Aaron is Moses' brother, spiritually he doesn't seem to be made of the same sort of stuff. He starts by doing what the people want him to do (vv.3-5) and ends up making feeble excuses to his brother (vv.22-24).

By contrast, Moses gives us two model prayers:

  1. In vv.11-13 he pleads with God to spare the people. What was the basis of this request? That if Israel were wiped out, it could make God look bad. God hears and relents. 
  2. In vv.31-32 he identifies himself with the people and offers to take their sin upon himself. God rejects the offer, but perhaps he was pleased with the sentiment, which is echoed by Paul in Romans 9:1-3. 

What can we learn today from the contrasting examples of Aaron and Moses? Here are some possibilities:

  • Pleasing people is a dead end. Go with pleasing God every time - and that way you will end up being a true blessing to other people.
  • Don't minimise the seriousness of sin - your own sin, or other people's. Instead, take it to the Lord in prayer. And pray passionately.
  • Be patient in worship. If God doesn't show up immediately, don't change your theology for the sake of a better experience. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14).

Question to ponder: What is the main lesson you need to learn from this chapter?

Exodus 31

There is a lot in this short chapter: Firstly we see that the Holy Spirit fills Bezalel (v.3). God's Spirit is not mentioned that often in the Old Testament (and this is his first mention in Exodus), and when the Spirit fills someone in the Old Testament it is normally for a specific purpose - unlike after Pentecost when the Spirit fills all God's people permanently. So Bezalel (who was not a king or a priest but a 'mere' artisan) was singled out for very special blessing - but one which today we can all receive.

The work which Bezalel does is a mini version of what God did in creation - just as the Tabernacle can be seen as a mini version of creation - and just as the kind of words used of Bezalel in v.3 are also the kind of words used in the Bible to describe God's work of creation.

So perhaps it is no surprise that, just as God rested on the seventh day of creation, so God now re-emphasises the importance of resting on the seventh day. The wording in v.15 is very strong, and repeats what we have already been told in chapters 20 and 23 (and will be told again in chapter 35).

So, just to be clear (Exodus says), the work Bezalel does on the Tabernacle is important - but it is not important enough to excuse breaking the Sabbath. If he did that, it would be as if he were saying he was better than God - because even God took a rest and made the Sabbath day holy.

For some people, the primary temptation is to rest when they should be working. But the Bible seems to recognise that for most of us, the temptation is the other way round. Exodus keeps ramming home the point: as far as God is concerned, there are no valid excuses for working when we should be resting.

Questions to ponder: What excuses do you make for working when you should be resting? How can you make sure you set aside time to be with God (rather than only doing things for God)?

Exodus 30

I'm told that some people like to lie in the bath for hours, surrounded by candles and incense sticks. I can't think of anything much worse - for me, washing is a necessity which is best done quickly and with good lighting!

God specified that the Tabernacle was to contain candles, incense and washing facilities. However, these were not for the benefit of the human users - but to reinforce once again the point that God is holy and can only be approached in an atmosphere of holiness. In fact there was a ban on trying to recreate the incense for other purposes (vv.37-38).

Incense does not get much of a mention in the New Testament, but there are a couple of significant occurrences, both of which link it to prayer: 

  1. At the start of Luke's Gospel, the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest as he was trying to burn incense - to tell him that God had heard the prayers offered by him and his wife Elizabeth (Luke 1:13). 
  2. In the book of Revelation, incense is used as a symbol of pure worship - and is particularly linked to the prayers offered by God's people (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4).

I'm not sure whether or not it is a good thing for Christians to burn incense as part of worship (it's not something that's part of our church tradition - but that doesn't mean we should dismiss it). But just thinking about incense should encourage us that our prayers - which sometimes seems as if they are going nowhere - do indeed go up to God, in the same way that the smoke from incense rises and its perfume spreads outwards.

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God (Revelation 8:4)

Questions to ponder: Do you feel that your prayers make any difference? How can the images and examples of prayer in the Bible encourage us? How can you encourage someone else who is struggling in their prayer life?

Exodus 29

As we have seen, the Tabernacle was to be a place where God would dwell in a special way. So the people who served in it needed to be made fit to do so. Three important words are used to describe the significance of what was going on:

  • The priests were consecrated (v.1). Consecration means to be made holy - to be set apart for God's use. It is the same word which is used to describe what God did to the seventh day of the week when he finished creating the universe (Genesis 2:3).
  • They were ordained (v.9). Literally 'theirs hands were filled' - probably meaning that a solemn responsibility (but also a great privilege) was given to Aaron and his sons.
  • Atonement was made for them (v.33). This is the first time this word is used like this in the Bible, and basically it means to be ransomed or purified. The Scriptures will go on to reveal that everyone (not just priests) needs to experience atonement.

The book/film Atonement by Ian McEwan tells the story of a great wrong committed by the child Briony Tallis, and of her lifelong failure to atone for it.

The Bible is in no doubt that as humans we can never atone for our own wrongs. But the good news - better news than we can ever grasp - is that God himself has atoned for them all in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil thy law's demands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and thou alone

To ponder: Are you still trying to atone for something which only God can deal with? Take some time to praise him that he has done all that is necessary, and so now you can come freely and joyfully into his holy presence.

Exodus 28

The role of a priest in any religious system is to act as a go-between - to represent humans before a divine being, and to represent the divine before humans. This can be a very stressful role.

In this chapter, we discover that Aaron and his sons are to fulfil this role in Israel, and the significance of the role is emphasised by the special clothing they are to wear. Some aspects of the clothing represent God (e.g. the high quality materials used - many of them being the same as were used for the holiest parts of the Tabernacle) - and some aspects of the clothing represent the people (e.g. the precious stones with the names of the twelve tribes written on them).

As Christians we are meant to read these instructions through the lens of the New Testament. There the word priest is not used to describe a special sort of Christian, but it is used in two ways:

  1. To refer to Jesus - the ultimate high priest, who was both fully divine and fully human, and who made the ultimate, once-and-for-all sacrifice (see Hebrews 9).
  2. To refer to all Christians - who have a priestly duty to represent God to a spiritually needy world, and a priestly duty to represent a spiritually needy world to God through prayer:

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. (1 Peter 2:9-10, The Message)

Questions to ponder: How do you feel about being a priest? In what ways are you living out your priestly calling - in your home, neighbourhood and workplace? In what ways can we support each other as we fulfil this role?

Exodus 27

The next few chapters of Exodus give instructions for various things which are to go in the Tabernacle. One important purpose of the Tabernacle was to demonstrate that God was both approachable and unapproachable. It was a place where God would dwell in a special way, in the midst of his people - but it certainly wasn't the sort of place you could just come wandering into.

So dominating the entrance to the Tabernacle was a large altar - its prominent position was an important reminder that sacrifices were needed before humans could approach God.

By the way, our new church building will not contain an altar. An altar is a place where sacrifices are offered, and the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus offered himself as the one perfect sacrifice, to put an end to all other sacrifices. So now we can approach God with confidence (see Hebrews 10).

A new way of describing the Tabernacle is used for the first time in v.21: tent of meeting. God has been making the point that he can only be approached with great care - but he also wants to reiterate that the whole purpose of having a Tabernacle is that he can be approached, subject to certain conditions. It's a place where God meets his people.

By the way, if you have ever tried to use an olive oil lamp, you will know that it is an awkward and time-consuming business. Dealing with this is the first job given to Aaron and his sons (vv.20-21).

Questions to ponder:

  1. Do you have a big enough awareness of the privilege it is to be able to meet with God? Is it obvious to God and to other people that you consider it a privilege?
  2. Do you know someone who is doing a time-consuming, dedication-requiring and sometimes-messy job for God? How could you encourage them in it?

Exodus 26

Not for the first time, I am wondering if I have bitten off more than I can chew with this blog series: here we face a chapter entirely about the construction of the tabernacle, and I can see that it is followed by several more chapters in a similar vein. What does all this have to say to us? In what sense is all this useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?

The materials used to construct the tabernacle tell a story. The most special cloth (linen - made from plant fibres) is used for the parts which are closest to the place where God dwells. As you move outwards, cloth made from the hairs of live animals are used. Finally, there is a covering made from dead animal skins. Similarly, there is a movement outwards from gold to silver to bronze. The point is that the place in the middle is very special, and even that is divided by a thick curtain to make a very, very special place. That is where the presence of God dwells - and nobody else can go there.

As people who live under the New Covenant, we have a different perspective on this. Our minds should go to the moment when Jesus (the one true priest, who could fully represent humans to God and God to humans) died on the cross. At that instant the thick curtain in the Jerusalem Temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). It was as if God were saying 'now everyone can come in'.

There are commands in the Old Testament we find hard to understand. Why, for example, is there a prohibition on wearing clothing made from linen and wool woven together (Deuteronomy 22:11)? Is this just common sense because wool shrinks more easily? Or is it a reminder to think about the tabernacle - and to remember that linen and wool have different places assigned to them - which in turn point to God's holiness?

To be honest, I don't know! But I think we can say that God is quite interested in symbolism and imagery - and perhaps in a church like ours (where buildings are primarily designed and decorated with practical considerations in mind) we should be careful to remember that.

Exodus 25

Exodus 25 begins a long speech from God to Moses in which instructions are given for the construction and fitting out of the tabernacle (=special tent). The nature and purpose of this tent become clearer over time, but an important clue is given in v.8 when God says that he will dwell among the people.

In one sense, God is everywhere. But he has already revealed his presence in a special way at Mount Sinai, and now he is promising to draw even closer - to dwell among his people as they leave Sinai and move from place to place. (Many scholars think that the tabernacle was intended to be a sort of 'portable Sinai' - to remind the people of what happened there and to enable them to continue to experience God's special presence.)

The tabernacle is a sign that God's banishment of Adam and Eve from his presence is not something which he wants to be permanent. Despite humanity's failings, God wants to draw close. Later, the Son of God would come to 'tabernacle' among us (the literal meaning of John 1:14), and one day in the future God himself will come to dwell among his people, and then there will no longer need to be any special tents or temples (Revelation 21:3, 22).

Like Moses, we at HHBC are in the process of constructing a special building, based on a blue-print (v.9). In our case the blue-print is man-made, and the building will serve a very different purpose to the tabernacle, because Jesus has made the tabernacle obsolete. 

But one similarity, which can encourage us as we see our new building starting to take shape in Sussex Road, is that it too is made from gifts which we have willingly offered to God (vv.2-7). God accepts the gifts we bring, and by his presence he gives them new significance.

Exodus 24

I remember being pretty nervous the day we got married - mainly because I was aware of the huge significance of what we were doing and the fact that there was no turning back. (25 years on, I can honestly say that I have never wanted to turn back, but I think it was healthy to feel a bit apprehensive at the time!)

In the covenant-making event recorded in Exodus 24, the people twice affirm that they will do everything God has said they should do in the previous chapters (vv.3, 7). Perhaps things would have worked out better if the people had been a bit more thoughtful about what they were promising. On the other hand, sometimes God does call us to commit to things which, if we thought about them for long, we might decide to back away from.

I don't remember being nervous on the day when I first committed my life to God. It was an even more significant decision than who to marry, but I was a child and I don't think I understood much about what I was doing. I don't remember exactly what I said to God that day, but I might have said the sort of reckless things which the Israelites said in verses 3 and 7.

Fortunately God has been very good to me and very patient with my failings. Nearly 40 years on, I can honestly say that I have never wanted to turn back. And I hope that, now I am older and supposedly wiser, when he says 'jump', I am still willing to jump in with both feet.

How about you? How about us as a church family? What does total commitment look like for us?

Exodus 23

There seems to be something about a seven-day cycle that is hard-wired into us, and Genesis 1 implies that this has something to do with being created in the image of God. (I read the other day that, during the 1930s, the Soviet Union experimented with using five- and six-day weeks, but eventually abandoned these in favour of the traditional seven-days. )

As humans we benefit from having our lives ordered by times and seasons, and this is reflected in the laws God gave in Exodus 23:10-19. We benefit from a work-free day each week; we benefit from longer times of rest and celebration during each year; and (something which has survived in the practice of giving church ministers seven-yearly 'sabbaticals', but not in many other contexts) we benefit from building special periods of rest and redistribution into our community life every few years.

If we try to do without these ways of ordering our time we may burn out or dry up - physically, mentally, emotionally.  And also spiritually - because these laws also reflect God's concern about our relationship with him. The Hebrew language uses the same word for worship as for service, but the Bible also encourages us to see worship as being linked to both rest and the ordering of our time.

Time is not simply money. It is a gift from God - which we can use, abuse or waste. And it is one of the most precious things we can offer back to him.

Two questions to pray about:

  1. How do you worship God in the way you use and plan your time?
  2. How can we as a church community ensure that we practice a good balance of service, order and rest?

Exodus 22

This blog series is working its way through Exodus, chapter by chapter. However, it's worth remembering that the chapter divisions in our Bibles were not there in the original text - they were first added by an Englishman in the Middle Ages.

The chapters sometimes begin and end in odd places - for example, almost everyone agrees that the division between Genesis 1 and 2 comes a paragraph earlier than it should. And the first half of Exodus 22 seems to continue the theme of the previous chapter, while the second half is linked to the beginning of the next chapter.

The section which spans chapters 22 and 23 is all about protecting the vulnerable from injustice, and begins and ends by repeating the reason this should matter to God's people: You know what it feels like to be unfairly treated - remember how it was for you in Egypt (see 22:21 and 23:9). This section considers various sorts of vulnerable people (widows, orphans, poor people, foreigners). It also recognises that anyone in a minority is often vulnerable.

Thus we read in 23:2, Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong ... do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. Most of us find it tempting to follow the crowd - it feels safe, and is the path of least resistance. It avoids having to think too hard - if everyone else is doing it, surely it must be OK. 

Some of us may like to think we are independently minded - but it takes a special person to stand up for what's right if there is personal risk involved. Yet all God's people are supposed to be special people: You are to be my holy people (22:31) - and 'holy' basically means 'special'.

When was the last time you stood out from the crowd in order to defend a vulnerable person or group of people?

Exodus 21

This chapter begins a section of detailed laws, which God gave to Moses and which he in turn 'set before' the people (v.1). They are probably more like 'principles' than what we would call 'laws', because they do not cover every conceivable scenario - so wisdom would be needed in actual cases.

Implicit in these laws is the fact that the people will not be able to live up to the 10 commandments in the previous chapter. God is a realist, and their failures will not come as a surprise to him, so he lays out provisions for dealing with those failures.

Many of these laws may appear to us arcane, and the punishments harsh. But by the standards of the day they were progressive. For example, unlike the legal codes found in many other ancient civilisations:

  1. They show comparable respect to the lives of men and women, rich and poor, adults and children, slaves and free
  2. Although the existence of slavery is taken for granted (mainly as a way of dealing with people who get into massive debt), slaves have rights. Most significantly, people cannot be held in slavery for more than six years (v.2), unless they love their master and choose to stay for life (vv.5-6)
  3. They place limits on the level of punishment or retribution which can be applied, so cycles of escalating vengeance are prevented

To ponder:

  • In what way has God already made provision for your future failings? How should that affect your attitudes and prayers?
  • Does your commitment to justice exceed that of the people you live and work amongst?
  • Are you involved in, or aware of, any 'cycles of escalating vengeance', and how should you respond?

Exodus 20

We recently thought about the 10 commandments in our morning services so I'm not going saying anything about them here (if you missed them, the sermon recordings are here). But as far as I can see, the giving of the commandments is the only time in Exodus when God spoke directly to the people as a whole (rather than via Moses and/or Aaron) - and they did not enjoy the experience. Immediately afterwards they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (v.19).

This raises the question of whether any of us really want to hear God's voice. One attraction of someone else speaking to us on God's behalf is that we can always ignore what they are saying on the grounds that they aren't really speaking God's words.

Moses responds, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (v.20). Notice how Moses tells them not to be afraid but also tells them that some fear of God would be quite a healthy thing! This reflects the rather nuanced attitude the whole Bible has towards fearing God:

  • Being frightened of God (because you are unsure whether he might do something crazy or unpredictable) is not encouraged. After all, he is not a tyrant.
  • Being in awe of God's glory, and having a concern not to disrespect or offend him, is strongly encouraged. After all, he is God.

In Exodus 1, fear of God made the midwives disobey Pharaoh; in Exodus 3 it made Moses hide his face; in Exodus 14 it made the people trust God; and in Exodus 18 it qualified some of the people for leadership.

Do you have a healthy fear of God and his word?

Exodus 19

The Israelites arrive at Sinai where they will stay for several months for some concentrated teaching from God. This will cover the rest of the book of Exodus, the whole of Leviticus and the first part of Numbers, so (if we go by the amount of space the Bible devotes to it) this is the most significant period of time in human history, until the period of Jesus' earthly ministry as recorded in the Gospels.

In Chapter 19, God reveals something of himself to the people in a terrifying volcano-like revelation. And he says these words of introduction to the people:

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

After their long and scary trek through the desert, the people may have wished they literally had been carried on eagles' wings. But although they had to put one foot in front of another, there was a sense in which God was carrying them. We are given similar images elsewhere in the Bible, perhaps most famously at the end of Isaiah 40 where we read that:

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

There may be times when we feel weary and faint, but as we look back we so often see the way in which the Lord has borne us up.

Sadly the Israelites didn't manage to live out all that God was to teach them at Sinai. It was left to a single Israelite to fulfil God's purposes and to draw all humanity into God's blessing. Thus the Apostle Peter can assure those who have placed their trust in Jesus (both Jews and Gentiles):

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Take some time today to worship God for making you one of his treasured people through Christ.

Exodus 18

Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was not an Israelite. In fact he was a pagan priest, and so we might not expect him to be portrayed very positively. But the opposite is the case; in this chapter he gives some wise advice about delegation, which Moses accepts (vv.13-26), and more importantly he listens to all that Moses tells him about the Exodus experience so far (v.8).

And then he responds:

  • He 'was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done' (v.9)
  • He exclaimed, 'Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you' (v.10)
  • He said, 'Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods' (v.11). This is particularly remarkable, because as we have already seen, it took a long time for both the Egyptians and the Israelites to come to 'know' that the LORD is God - but Jethro seems to have got there in an instant.
  • He made a sacrifice to God (v.12)

The Holy Spirit is not mentioned, but clearly someone was at work in Jethro's heart. It all started in v.8, when Moses gave an account of what God had done for him and his people. He did not pretend that things were easy, but he brought God and his salvation into the conversation:

Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done ... for Israel's sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.

What a model this is for how God can use his people to impact those around us with the good news of God's salvation. How can we follow Moses' example in our encounters this Christmas with people who do not yet worship the Lord?

Exodus 17

My family will tell you that I am a bit strange, and one of my strange habits is to read Bible commentaries in my leisure time. (I also have a strange job, which means that the distinction between work time and leisure time is pretty blurred.) A result of this is that I am now reading Exodus through for the third time in three months, and am on my third Exodus commentary. And a result of that is that I am starting to recognise patterns in the text and am realising that God is saying some things to me (and perhaps to HHBC).

Exodus 17:8-16 is an example of this:

Firstly, the Israelites came under attack and they needed to respond - this required some planning and direction on the part of their leaders, and some bravery on the part of the fighting men. They had to do battle.

Secondly, while they had to do battle, they couldn't win the battle. Only God could win the battle for them - and he showed this using a prop. The prop was one he had used before with Moses (a wooden staff), but this time it was to be used differently (it just had to be held up in the air).

It was basically the repeat of a situation the Israelites had already found themselves in several times already in Exodus: they needed to step out in faith and do the thing God was telling them to do - but they also needed to trust God to bring about the result he had promised.

Refusing to fight is not the right approach. But neither is expecting to win the battle ourselves. God asks us to be faithful, not successful - and to trust him for the success. A long time afterwards, David recognised this: we went out to fight Goliath, but he declared, the battle is the LORD's (1 Samuel 17:47).


  1. Is there a thing you need to do, a step you need to take or battle you need to fight, in obedience to God?
  2. Is there a result, destination or victory which you need to trust God to provide?

Exodus 16

God had taken Israel out of Egypt, but taking Egypt out of Israel was going to be a longer-term project. Physically they had been delivered, but the old untrusting attitudes they had learned during their captivity were still very much alive and kicking.

So they were already looking back with rose-tinted spectacles on what they had left behind. And they grumbled; the grumbling was directed at Moses, but really they were grumbling at God - as Moses pointed out. Nevertheless, God was extraordinarily gracious - their grumbling was answered with the provision of abundant quantities of food.

In vv.6-8, Moses tells the people that 'you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt ... you will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat'. And in v.12, God says 'then you will know that I am the LORD your God'.

We have seen before that God was particularly interested in people knowing him (see Exodus 6:7, 7:5, 7:17, 8:10, 8:22, 9:14, 10:2). So surely the people of Israel did know the LORD by now, and did know that he would not let them down - hadn't they seen the ten plagues and experienced God bringing them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea? Yet somehow they didn't yet seem to have placed their trust in him - hence all the grumbling.

On Sunday I was preaching on the words Zechariah prophesied when John the Baptist was born, and we especially looked at Luke 1:77 where we read that people will be given 'the knowledge of salvation'. Salvation can be something we know about in theory, but has it permeated our hearts? Do we have assurance that God has saved us and is on our side?  Do we know God or do we just know facts about God?

If we're not sure, let's ask him to give us what he has promised - the gift of the knowledge of his salvation.

Exodus 15

The people now sing a great song (vv.1-18) following their deliverance - the first such worship song in the Bible. It sets the tone for all true worship songs ever since: it's about God (not about us) and what he's done to save us (and recognises that we can't save ourselves).

Count how many times the song says 'the LORD' or uses the words you / he / etc to refer to God. Now say a prayer (or sing a song) of your own which addresses God that many times, perhaps ending as the people of Israel did with these words:

The LORD reigns for ever and ever (v.18)

Verses 19-21 seem to be a recap of the whole event, suggesting that the preceding song may have been written and led by 'Miriam the prophet', who right from an early age had a knack for finding the right words for the occasion (see 2:7)!

Sadly this great worship event is immediately followed by three separate instances of the people grumbling (15:24, 16:2, 17:3). Oh dear! 

How can we make sure that our times of corporate worship set the tone for our whole lives, rather than there being an inconsistency between what we do on Sunday and during the rest of the week?

Exodus 14

A few weeks ago I preached on vv.14-15 of this chapter, which say:

'The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.'  Then the LORD said to Moses. 'Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.'

These words were spoken to the people of Israel as they were in a panic. The armies of Egypt were behind them and the Red Sea was in front of them. I felt, and still feel, that vv.14-15 were words for me personally and for HHBC at the current time. They present us with two aspects of what it means to trust God, which we need to learn to hold in balance:

  1. We need to be still. (Other translations say 'be quiet' or 'be at peace'.) We need to trust God to win the battles for us. We need to recognise that we are powerless to do much about most of the things which really matter, and we need to learn to hand those things to God. That's easier said than done, but it's not just advice - it's a command from God to his people.
  2. We need to move on. Being still is not an excuse for being passive and lazy. Being still before God is an attitude of mind which will then result in us taking specific steps forward in obedience to God. We are to keep walking, taking the next step as he reveals it to us - which in the case of the Israelites meant stepping down onto the sea-bed.

What do these twin aspects of faith look like in your life, and in our church life today? How can we make sure that we stand and allow God to fight for us?  How can we make sure that we move on in obedience to him?

Exodus 13

We’ve reached chapter 13, and in one sense ‘the Exodus’ has already happened – Israel has left Egypt for good (12:51). But this is just the beginning of the Israelites’ journey as they learn how to become what they are: Exodus people. To paraphrase the closing words of CS Lewis’ The Last Battle:

For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in Egypt had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which goes on for ever.

And their new life as the free people of God begins in two ways.  Firstly, God gives them ways to keep on remembering and re-enacting what he has done for them (vv.1-16). They will need these living reminders when things get tough and they are tempted to forget God’s salvation.

Similarly, as God’s people today we are commanded to remember and re-enact the way in which God delivered us ‘with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1 Peter 1:19).

Secondly, God guides them. He does not take them by the direct route (vv.17-18), but he is with them day and night (vv.21-22).

We may be frustrated when God does not take us via what appears the most straightforward way. We may kick against his will or try to manipulate events towards an alternative outcome. But God has a plan which we do not see, and he will lead us if we place our hands into his hand.

Are you ready for God’s next chapter for your life?