In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
We are currently considering the plagues narrative in the book of Exodus which is the instrument by which God frees the Israelites form Egypt. We talked about how a key theme of the plagues account is the notion that God is making himself known – both to the Egyptians (as the only God above all [false] gods) and to the Israelites (as their personal, covenant God).
We considered that the plagues can be divided into an introduction, three triads of three plagues, and a final, climactic plague. “So that you will know that I am the Lord” (or a variation) marks the beginning plague in each triad. Therefore we have an account of the plagues that looks like a 1-3-3-3-1 structure.
- Plagues 1-3
- Plagues 4-6
- Plagues 7-9
- Final Plague
Incidentally, there are a number of other markers which might suggest that this structure is intentional. But what I want to look at is the second triad (plagues 4-6) and see how it ties into one of the Old Testament themes that we’ve been discussing in our survey.
The third triad begins with the plague of flies. This begins in chapter 8:20.
8:20Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.
22 “ ‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’ ”
The second plague of this triad (5th plague) is the plague on livestock and begins in chapter 9.
9:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” 2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3 the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. 4But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’ ”
The third plague (6th plague) is the plague of boils.
9:8Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”
10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.
Now reading the account of the third/sixth plague, it’s easy to miss what’s going on in verse 11. Verse 11 says: “11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians.” In other words, the boils affected the Egyptians, but not the Israelites.
The point that I want to make is that, with the third triad, we see a shift in the plagues to make a distinction between Israel and Egypt. We’ve talked about this theme before – that God is not just “saving individuals”, he’s creating a people. Let’s look back at the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Now, remembering that the purpose for which God is calling Abraham is to redeem a fallen world, we’ve been discussing how God is not inviting Abraham to personal (i.e. “individual”) salvation. He is announcing his intention to create a redemption people, a kingdom people, through Abraham. This promise is carried out through Abraham, through to the children of Abraham.
What we see is that God is creating a Kingdom-People. It’s important to realize this because, it seems to me, that a large segment of Western Christianity is convinced that God is interested in personal (individual) salvation. Now in a sense, of course, this is true. Or at least it’s not not-true. God is certainly interested in your personal salvation and my personal salvation. God is certainly interested in each person who wants to belong to the kingdom – each person who wants to be saved. He is interested in you and He’s interested in me as unique, wonderful creations. But in the emphasis on personal salvation, perhaps we’ve lost too much.
Again, I have no doubt that God is interested in each of our personal salvations. But what He’s not doing is saving a bunch of isolated individuals, each of us having our own individual cosmos revolving around ourselves. Rather, we are being invited to join the chorus of people, the body of Christ, which joins in the chorus of creation all of which finds its center in Christ and Christ alone.
Thus the fundamental question is, which is born out in the Exodus story, whose kingdom, what kingdom do you want to be a part of? Are we wanting to be and willing to be a part of the kingdom of God? Or would we rather be a part of the kingdom of the world? Would we rather have a kingdom of our own?
As we’ve seen as we’ve walked through the Old Testament, this creation of a people – a kingdom people – is intimately connected to God’s purpose to redeem a fallen humanity and a fallen creation. In other words, God is not saving us “out of the world”, He is saving the world (though, I don’t believe, not in a universalist kind of way). His purpose is to redeem and restore creation. Therefore, when we hear the words of God to Abraham, we understand that our purpose and our identity is intimately connected to this purpose.
Therefore, because of this fact, and because we are chosen by grace not by merit, we can and should understand that this is not the same as privilege. Because it is not the same as privilege, doesn’t this radically change (or at least impact) how we as Christians and how we as churches should engage in our world?
The Israelites didn’t get this – they forgot their call and their identity. The whole ‘wanting a king’ so that they could be like all the other nations in the world, the urge to conquer, the desire to suppress and oppress (specifically, by various kings) was born out of a sense of privilege, not a desire to bless. As we will see as we progress through Exodus, the whole “what about me?” attitude in the wilderness and beyond arises, out of a sense of privilege, not an understanding of calling.
But there is a distinction between privilege and blessing. Privilege makes us think that something is owed to us – that we have “rights”, specifically that we have right to something. Blessing reminds us that it has been given – that it is a gift. So when we think of what we have as privilege, we desperately try to hold on to it. When we understand it as a blessing, as a gift, we are willing (even eager) to share it and to give it away. When something is a privilege, we try to keep people out. When something is a blessing, we invite others in.
We are called to be a blessing, because we have been blessed.
Finally, what does it mean to be a blessing? How are we to be a blessing?
We are a blessing because we are part of God’s kingdom. We are a blessing by understanding that we are, and then living as if we are, a kingdom people. So what do we mean by this?
Firstly, this is distinct from our first point (a kingdom people) because the first point emphasizes that we are a people – a community, not individuals, a nation. This point is that we are not any people, we are a people of the kingdom.
But specifically what I mean by this is this:
What we’ve been reading and hearing throughout the story of God as told (so far) through the Old Testament is that the world is fallen, broken, lost. We don’t have to look too far to understand that the world is broken.
Recently, we’ve all probably heard that there was a shooting at a newspaper in Maryland, U.S. This marked the 154th shooting in the United States in 2018. The 154th! As of today, we are 182 days into the year. That’s 0.84 mass shootings every day. I don’t mean to pick on the U.S. but there’s something wrong.
What’s wrong, according to the Bible, and what I believe, is that people are sinners. We are broken. We are lost. We have lost connection with God. We have tried, and continue to try, to take the place of God and figure things out by ourselves and to make the world in our own image. And we have failed. And we continue to fail. We have dramatically, and hilariously, and hideously failed.
We have failed because we have forgotten that there is a King. We have failed because we’d rather be our own kings and we’d rather be our own gods. And not only have we forgotten, but we actively reject Him. We reject the God who is the author of all creation. We reject the God who is the source of all life. And when we reject the source of life, how are we surprised that what we have, what we achieve, is not life after all?
But as a Kingdom-People, we have the opportunity to announce, to proclaim, and to remind the world that there is a king. That there is a way of life that is better, that is truer, because it is given to us by the source of life.
This is why we are set apart, isn’t it? Isn’t that why God made a distinction between the Israelites and the other nations? Not so that they could be privileged. But so that they could testify to the living God, the only King? And aren’t we, as people of the kingdom, called to do the same?