Through the strange account of the prophet Balaam and King Balak, we are assured that God’s purposes do not change. He will bless those who bless Abraham’s offspring, and curse those who curse them. And although Israel seems a very unpromising people, God will certainly keep his covenant promises. Despite everything that has happened in the wilderness years documented in the book of Numbers, God is still "for" his people.
The book of Numbers is very much a journey narrative, from Mount Sinai— very soon after Israel had escaped Egypt— through to the their arrival on the doorstep of the Promised Land. This journey is what the New Testament frequently looks back upon as a pattern or parallel for the Christian life of discipleship. We are Christian pilgrims on a spiritual journey. We are somehow, like Israel and should learn from their experience
The journey from Mount Sinai to Canaan could be done in about 2 months, even with flocks and herds. But in the centre section of the book of Numbers 13-19, we learn why it ended up taking Israel 40 years.
"We read in the Exodus account the unfolding story of God shaping a people who will be the answer to the question posed in Genesis: how will God redeem his world and restore the creation order? "
Most nations have a founding event or story which shapes their understanding of who they are. In Australia we have the stories of the Dreamtime, the First Fleet, the Eureka Stockade, Gallipoli, and Sporting Heroes of every kind; all of which tell us who we are and how we got here.
Israel’s founding story is the Exodus. This was when God took them, a group of slaves, from obscurity and thrust them on to the centre stage– defeating Pharaoh and his armies in spectacular fashion, and freeing them from their slavery in Egypt. It’s a key moment in God’s self-revelation and in the outworking of his purposes for the world. In the centuries that follow this event, God will identify himself to Israel time and time again as “the God who brought you out of Egypt.”
We read in the Exodus account the unfolding story of God shaping a people who will be the answer to the question posed in Genesis: how will God redeem his world and restore the creation order?
As you reflect on the following passages this month, ask yourself some questions: - What does the Exodus tell me about God and his plans for redemption? - Where is God up to in his redemption purposes now? - What is my founding story?
The two overview videos below provide a useful overview of the whole book.
God calls Moses
At the beginning of the book of Exodus, God’s promises to Abraham are still unfulfilled. His descendants are many, but they have no land of their own. But God has not forgotten his promises to Abraham (remember Gen 1:1-3; Gen 15: 1-21; Gen 17:1-8). Although silent for generations, God introduces himself to Moses in spectacular fashion as “I Am.”
This is no mere family or tribal deity, but rather God eternal who reveals himself to Israel in his saving actions. He also reveals himself to Egypt and the whole world as Israel’s Deliverer, bringing judgment upon those who reject his rule and salvation for his chosen.
Food for thought: - In Exodus 3, Moses is thought to have been over 70 years of age. How has Moses’ life up to this point prepared him for God’s calling?--- What has God built into your life to date that he might use for his purposes today? - What does God’s calling of Moses in Exodus 3 show you about God? (notice the 5 verbs describing the activity of God in v7-8) - Why might this passage be such a key moment?
The Exodus of Israel from Egypt is an unprecedented intervention. God is God, and Pharaoh is not. It is a defining moment in Israel’s narrative, and the Bible is clear the Israelites must remind themselves of this great event regularly.
They must know themselves as the people God rescued from Egypt– rescued from slavery and death by God’s grace.
Food for thought: - Yeast (or the lack of it) seems to feature in the regulations for the Passover meal. What is its significance? - How is the Passover meal a marker of inclusion and exclusion? How do you feel about the apparently binary nature (either ‘in’ or ‘out’) of God’s salvation? - Look for, and mark, words in Exodus 13:11-16 that are like ‘redeem’ and ‘redemption’. What does the writer mean when he uses that word? What is a dictionary definition? What do you learn about God’s redemption in this story?
God has rescued Israel dramatically, but days into their journey they have lost faith. ‘Grumbling’ is a constant theme as Israel wanders in the desert, but God remains their faithful provider.
Food for thought: - To what extent might we have ‘sympathy’ for the wandering Israelites? Or perhaps they are culpably faithless and ‘hard-hearted’? - Israel’s desert wanderings find a parallel in the experience of the Christian: they have been miraculously delivered by God but they do not yet experience the fulfilment of all that has been promised. A time requiring obedient trust in the commands of God, even in the face of trials, ensues. What situations do you face that feel like ‘desert wanderings’? What specifically might God be calling you to do in them?
At Sinai God makes a covenant with Israel, giving them a purpose and a mission– to be a ‘kingdom of priests’. Priests facilitate God’s blessing and forgiveness to people. Israel is to be a whole kingdom of priests, a nation called to facilitate blessing and forgiveness to all people, of all nations.
Here we see God fulfilling his promises to Abraham (Gen 12:3). In this context– already saved by grace out of Egypt (Ex 20:2)– God gives Israel the Law, providing a framework for the appropriately grateful response of obedience. The Law is part of God shaping the descendants of Abraham into a people who will live according to a new pattern of life, a pattern that is radically different from that of Egypt, Canaan and the other surrounding nations.
Food for thought: - What do the 10 commandments reveal about God himself? - What do you learn from this passage about God’s purposes and hopes for his people? How might this shape your responses to God?
The following video from The Bible Project sheds further light on the theme of The Law.
Despite the clear command not to dishonour God by creating idols, Israel’s heads are still stuck in Egypt. In Egypt, deities were man-made statues, among a pantheon of other competing deities. And so making a golden calf to honour God seemed to make a bit of sense– despite commandments #1 and 2.
A constant theme throughout Israel’s history is the way they turn to other nations for their picture of what God and the good life looks like, rather than allowing God to give them that picture.
How can you tell where a person is looking for their vision of God and ‘the good life’? Where do you look for your vision of God and ‘the good life’?
The Exodus is not the only freeing of God’s people from slavery, it is also when God comes to earth to live with his people. Since the exile from Eden, God and his people have been separated by sin and death. The sacrificial system that had been set up was a continual reminder of the barrier of sin separating God from his people.
The Tabernacle (a transportable temple) and the system of sacrifices, purifications and rituals emphasised the holiness of God and his ‘difference’ from his people. Only through sacrifice to atone for sin could God be approached. And yet, all this was graciously provided in the tabernacle system.
So, in the Exodus, God comes to live in the midst of his people in the Tabernacle.
Food for thought: - In the bible’s narrative so far, how has God expressed his desire to live with his people? In this regard, what has been the impact of human sin? How does the tabernacle resolve this tension? - At the end of a long and detailed process, climatically, God’s glorious presence takes up residence among his people. How do you experience this today?
The story of the Exodus ends with Moses’ final blessing of Israel before his death. We don’t read about this until the end of the book of Deuteronomy but it’s worth jumping ahead to consider where this epic journey concludes (for Moses, anyway).
There is hope: God has been faithful, but as the baton of leadership is handed on to Joshua, the story of redemption remains incomplete.
Reflect on the account of Moses and Israel. What does it show you about living your life now, as you wait for the final fulfilment of all of God’s promises?
The Theme of “Exodus”
The Exodus is a major theme throughout the bible. The biblical writers continue to return to the Exodus as a powerful model of God’s redemption. Read the following passages and reflect on what we learn about the type of redemption God is bringing about.
Written many years after the events of Exodus, this Psalm acts as a testimony against Israel. Despite their escape and exit from Egypt, the people of Israel did not prove faithful to the God who has saved them. The experience of wandering in the wilderness for 40 years should serve as a warning to future generations when they are tempted to disbelieve God’s promises.
Throughout Israel’s worship, God’s character is revealed by what he has done, in this case, through the events of the Exodus. This Psalm teaches Israel how to respond to God’s redemptive acts, giving their praise a narrative framework. See if you can write a prayer that gives praise to God through the narrative framework of your salvation and experience.
After the Exile into Babylon, Israel longed for a new Exodus, a rescue that would take them back to their Promised Land with freedom to worship God. Prophets such as Isaiah use Exodus imagery as they look forward to the day when God will again bring salvation.
Having enjoyed the image of a new exodus in Isaiah, consider the way in which Jesus introduces himself in Luke 4:16-21.
Matthew presents a picture of Jesus as the living ‘new Exodus’: he is born under a genocidal king; his family escapes to Egypt; he returns from Egypt and is baptised (think Red Sea); then wanders forty days in the desert while being tempted.
Afterwards, Jesus goes up a mountain and teaches his people a new way of life. Significantly, in his final week Jesus chooses the Passover festival, commemorating Israel’s Exodus, as the backdrop to explain the significance of his coming death.
The warnings of the ‘incomplete exodus’ (Joshua did not bring ‘rest’ in the Promised Land) serve to call Christians to faithful living, as they anticipate their ‘complete rest’ in the kingdom of God.
Effective communication is vital in any relationship, including our relationship with God through prayer. The Prayer component of Growing Disciples provides resources and ideas to help us expand the scope of our prayers beyond our own needs and those of our family and friends.
So, rather than ‘teach’ us about prayer, the purpose of this part of the Growing Disciples course is to provide us with useful resources, models, examples, and stimuli to expand the scope of our prayers. In addition to praying around the immediate needs of our family and friends, we'll also learn to pray around the world.
Operation World (OW) is widely regarded as the definitive volume of prayer information about the world and is the recipient of the ECPA Gold Medallion Award for Excellence in Evangelical Christian Literature. OW was listed in Christianity Today’s, “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals".
Operation World is now an online resource for prayer, providing up to date information for every country of the world. Follow this link to use this resource every day this month: https://operationworld.org