The God Who Saves
THE GOD WHO SAVES
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: January 31, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Starting two weeks ago on January 16, our midweek lessons are taking us on a journey through Exodus 20:1-17, which is commonly referred to as “The Ten Commandments.” But the first commandment doesn’t show up until verse 3, and verses 1-2 are there for good reason.
Our first lesson was entitled “The God Who Speaks” and corresponds to verse 1: “And God spoke all these words, saying” (Exodus 20:1). In Genesis 1, God spoke into existence the universe and, by speaking, He shaped that universe into its many beautiful and complementary parts. In Exodus 20, “God spoke” and by speaking He intends to shape a people into a reflection of His holiness. “Blessed… are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
Our second lesson was entitled “The God Who Keeps Covenant” and corresponds to the beginning of verse 2 where the God who is speaking identifies Himself: “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2). LORD, when every letter is capitalized, refers to God’s personal name; whereas Lord, when only the “L” is capitalized, refers to one of God’s titles – Adonai, Master, King. But the all-caps LORD is God’s name, and the underlying Hebrew can actually be translated as Yahweh or Jehovah. The point is that God has a name, and He reveals His name to His covenant people – that is, the people with whom He has graciously chosen to enter into a special relationship. Yahweh is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Yahweh changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and so Israel the man is the father of Israel the nation. The reason that God tells Israel “I am [Yahweh] your God” is because He is “the God of [their] fathers” (Exodus 3:16). Yahweh God entered into covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and hundreds of years later when Jacob’s descendants were suffering in Egypt, Yahweh “remembered his covenant” (Exodus 2:24) and treated the children of Israel as His people, that is, as the sons and daughters of the covenant. Yahweh God is faithful to His covenant promises!
Our third lesson is entitled “The God Who Saves” and corresponds to the rest of verse 2 where the God who is speaking reminds Israel what He had done for them: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2, italics added) It is so important to understand the significance of the fact that verse 2 comes before verses 3-17, not so much because of the mathematics of counting in right sequence, but because of the content and flow of thought: redemption (verse 2) comes before right living (verses 3-17); grace (verse 2) comes before godliness (verses 3-17); God’s power that sets the captive free (verse 2) comes before our walking in the way of freedom (verses 3-17); the work that God does for us (verse 2) comes before the worship and obedience that we render to God (verses 3-17). As Kevin DeYoung so helpfully puts it: “The Ten Commandments are not instructions on how to get out of Egypt. They are rules for a free people to stay free.”
So the order that flows from verse 2 to verses 3-17 is of great importance. The people didn’t bring themselves “out of the land of Egypt”; Yahweh their God “brought [them] out”! The people didn’t redeem themselves “out of the house of slavery”; Yahweh their God is their Redeemer. And what a great and mighty redemption it was!
THE LORD DESTROYED THE EGYPTIANS AND DELIVERED HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL
We do well to camp out in verse 2 for a little while and meditate on the mighty deeds of the Lord. Simply put, He overpowered and destroyed the Egyptians for the larger purpose of rescuing His people from bondage. Do you remember?
The Lord God Almighty is not a tribal deity who reigns over one geographic region; He is the sovereign Lord who reigns over all the heavens and all the earth. And He can do with all the earth – or any part of earth – whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3), and when He decides it is time to turn things upside down and judge a nation on earth, He does so with perfect justice and righteousness.
Remember the first plague: “… all the water in the Nile turned into blood.” (Exodus 7:20) And the second plague: “… the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 8:6) And the third plague: “All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 8:17) And the fourth plague: “There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.” (Exodus 8:24)
At the same time, the Lord “put a division between [his] people and [Pharaoh’s] people” (Exodus 8:23) and there were “no swarms of flies” in “the land of Goshen” where the Israelites lived (Exodus 8:22). There is safety for those in the covenant, but judgment for those outside the covenant.
Remember the fifth plague: “All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people Israel died.” (Exodus 9:6) And the sixth plague: “So [Moses and Aaron] took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast.” (Exodus 9:10) And the seventh plague: “Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 9:23)
All this was nothing short of a largescale humanitarian and ecological crisis in the land of Egypt, but the devastation was well-deserved.
Remember the eighth plague: “They [the locusts] covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left.” (Exodus 10:15) And the ninth plague: “So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.” (Exodus 10:22-23)
This “felt” (Exodus 10:21) and overwhelming physical darkness was a reflection of the fact that the Egyptians dwelt in spiritual darkness. As we learned during Advent from our study of Isaiah 8, those who reject God’s Word are “thrust into thick darkness” (Isaiah 8:22).
Remember the tenth plague. Remember the Passover. Exodus 12, beginning in verse 21, says:
“Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
“Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.
“At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.” (Exodus 12:21-30)
This tenth plague – the Lord’s striking down of all the firstborn in Egypt, but His passing over the houses of His covenant couple – paved the way for Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. Pharaoh finally said to Moses and Aaron, “Up, go out” (Exodus 12:31), and so Israel went. Soon, however, stubborn Pharaoh decided to pursue the Israelites, and it all came to a climactic culmination at the Red Sea: the Lord drew up the waters of the sea and led Israel to “[walk] on dry ground through the sea” (Exodus 14:29), but the drawn up waters “returned” (Exodus 14:28) upon the Egyptian army and death swallowed them up. “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” (Exodus 14:30) All this was in the immediate background when God told Israel in Exodus 20: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
UNDERSTANDING THE EXODUS IN A NEW TESTAMENT KEY
But there is more to the story, of course. The salvation of Israel out of Egypt was the physical, political, and temporal salvation of an entire nation that was covenantally related to God through the patriarchs. But in terms of the spiritual condition of individual Israelites, many had an evil and unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12), which is why that entire adult generation of Israelites who passed through the Red Sea never entered the Promised Land (Hebrews 3:7-19) – with two exceptions, Joshua and Caleb, because they had hearts that trusted in the Lord. None of this caught God by surprise and, as the New Testament teaches us, not all Israel is Israel – in other words, not all physical Israel is spiritual Israel (Romans 9:1-8, especially verse 6). Even so, God intended the salvation of Israel out of Egypt to be a picture and preview of the greater salvation that He would provide out of sin. But in terms of physical Israel in Exodus 20, how sad to be rescued from the grip of the cruel Egyptian taskmasters but still be in the grip of the cruel taskmaster called sin!
When you turn to the last book of the Bible – the Book of Revelation – we see plagues, very similar to those in Exodus, being poured out on guilty sinners. These plagues are not unleashed in one little country like Egypt, but upon the whole earth. Then in Revelation 20 we learn about the final judgment at God’s “great white throne” (Revelation 20:11) when the “books are opened” (Revelation 20:12) and each unrepentant sinner is judged for his or her sin and “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14). The intensity and scope of the final judgment is greater than the temporal judgment that befell the Egyptians. How shall any escape?
So finally we come to the greater redemption, the greater Passover, the greater exodus that Yahweh God has accomplished through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus the sin-bearer walked into the firestorm of God’s wrath and was affixed to a rugged cross. When He was on that cross, from Noon until 3:00pm “there was darkness over all the land” (Matthew 27:45). Then at about 3:00pm “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying…, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matthew 27:46) The Righteous One went into the land of darkness and God-forsakenness, so that unrighteous ones like us come be “brought… out” – not out of slavery in the land of Egypt, but out of slavery in the land of sin. God the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
Never forget the Passover lamb. “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7), writes Paul. Regarding that initial Passover back in Exodus 12, and the application of the blood on “the lintel and the two doorposts,” my college professor Dr. Chris Miller drew out the critical point: If the lamb dies, we live. This is the resting place of all true Christian faith: the Lamb has died, the body has been broken, the blood has been shed, therefore we live.
And if we read on into the New Testament, we find that the pattern of grace (Exodus 20:2) coming before godliness (Exodus 20:3-17) holds true: “Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14) Good works are not a strategy for getting redeemed out of the domain of sin and lawlessness. But for those who have been redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ – a redemption that is not merely physical or merely political or merely temporal, but profoundly spiritual and transformational in the depth of our hearts – yes, for those of us who have been redeemed by Christ, we demonstrate the reality of this redemption by living obedient lives and being “zealous for good works.”
So even after we put Exodus 20:1-17 into a New Testament key – which we must do! – we must always remember that verse 2 comes before verses 3-17.
 Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Foundational Tools for Our Faith). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 24.
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