Big Story - Act 3 - Scene 2 - the LORD reveals himself
with Roger Kirby
The next major action in the Biblical story is the return from Egypt of all the descendants of Jacob/Israel 400 years after Joseph took them there. What are most interesting are not the details of their history but the way in which God, the LORD, reveals himself to them. He does this in 3 ways:
- he tells them his name;
- he carries out many overt acts demonstrating the power of his activity on their behalf;
- he stations himself in the middle of his people to travel with them. That is knowledge, action and presence.
1. Knowledge. When Moses, seeking authority for what he had just been commanded to do, asks what God’s name is he gets 3 answers. In Exodus 3: 13 – 15 we read: “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name? ’ Then what shall I tell them?’.
God said to Moses,
- “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:
- ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites,
- ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers —the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob —has sent me to you’”.
The third one identifies him as the same God of their ancestors hundreds of years earlier. The first one, perhaps given undue prominence in English Bibles by being printed in capitals is difficult to understand. The important one is the second one; I AM, as this is the one that Jesus used to declare his own status, as we shall see later. Disclosing his name like this was a major step forward in the relationship between the Lord and his people.
2. Actions. The sequence of miraculous events carried out in Egypt through Moses as the human agent, established the uniqueness, the power and the authority of the Lord beyond question. (One example is in Exodus 7: 8 – 13) “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle, ’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said”. These demonstrations of miraculous powers were then followed by the two miraculous events that constituted redemption out of Egypt: the passing over of the first born sons of Israel while those of Egypt died on one terrible night and the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the pursuing Egyptians.
3. Presence. Perhaps easily overlooked is the statement of Exodus 13: 18 – 22. “So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people”.
This developed into the formal structure of the ‘tent of meeting’. Exodus 40: 34 – 38: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels”.
The Israelites were instructed to camp by their tribes in a square round the tent (Numbers 2: 1 – 2) “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family”. This symbolically indicated the centrality of the Lord amongst his people, Israel.
Thus were established 2 apparently contradictory facts about the Lord: unlike all the gods (=idols) of the surrounding nations. He was invisible and he was the God with whom they could have the closest of relationships – no distant, silent, unknowable God was the Lord.
So we read in Deuteronomy 7:7–11 “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today”.
And above all there is the Shema, Deuteronomy 6: 4, 5, “Hear, O Israel:The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”, words which the faithful Israelites were later taught to say as their declaration of faith every day.
Note that I am not listing the giving of the Law on Sinai as a major part of the Big Story. The people of Israel did not become the Lord’s people by keeping the Law; they kept the Law because they were the Lord’s people.
The sequence is exactly the same for us though it must be updated in the light of the story of Jesus. First we need some knowledge of God. There is plenty to be heard and read about him on this website though it is better by far to read it for yourself directly from the Bible, if you have one. Second, we need to experience the action of the Lord on our lives. This is when the Holy Spirit comes to us and turns us round to walk in the Lord’s way. The immediate results in our own lives may not be very obvious, but then what was going on in Egypt probably wasn’t very obvious to the ordinary, average Israelite, who had been making bricks without straw, until they actually crossed the Red Sea and saw the Egyptians drowned. Third, we need to recognize that from the moment of our redemption the Lord, Christ, the Spirit, is at the very centre of our lives. From then on ‘your life is hidden with Christ in God’, or as one paraphrase puts it ‘Christ is the secret centre of your life’!
The presence of the Lord in the middle of his people was of fundamental importance for them. Be sure that the presence of the Lord in the middle of your life is of fundamental importance for you!