– Journey Week 3

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? {12} “Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” (EXO 14:11-12)

  1. We need to take a moment to remind ourselves where we are in the story of the children of Israel’s journey from their slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
    1. Originally welcomed as guests when there were just 70 of them, over 400 years they have multiplied to such an extent that the Egyptians fear that if invaded, the Hebrews might take the side of the enemy and Egypt would be destroyed. Their way of dealing with this problem is to enslave the children of Israel.
    2. Moses, uniquely prepared by the Lord by being educated as a Prince of Egypt, and then spending 40 years in the deserts of Midian, was sent back to Egypt to lead the people out of the slavery to a new, Promised Land.
    3. Pharaoh does not want to let his slaves go – he has much work yet for them to do. Jehovah, for His part, wants to make an example of Pharaoh, to demonstrate His power to the Egyptians and Hebrews alike.
      1. This is not really a story about contest to see who’s stronger between Pharaoh and Jehovah, but a parable about the struggles we face in our adult life as we try to decide for ourselves if we are to be led by our love of the pleasures of the world, or if we are going to walk away from the immediate pleasures of life in the world for the sake of a promise of eternal life in heaven.
        1. Who will be our king – Pharaoh or Jehovah? And, as we shall see, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
      2. The children of Israel (who represent us in this parable) watched passively and from a distance as Moses arrived and started stirring up trouble with Pharaoh.
        1. They were inclined to ask him to stop, because Pharaoh’s anger just made things worse for them, but as the miracles became more and more powerful and destructive on the Egyptians perhaps they began to feel that this might actually work!
        2. Then there was the exhilaration of the spoiling.
          1. They went into the houses of the people who’d been bossing them around all their lives and took anything of value that they wanted!
          2. Then they packed up their things and walked away.
            1. It must have been, at least temporarily, a very exciting moment for them.
          3. But they are pursued, and they seem to be trapped between Pharaoh’s army (and their chariots) and the sea.
          4. Again, they witness a miracle as the Lord interposes Himself between them and their enemies.
            1. But it’s a stand-off. They are still stuck between the rock and the hard place. Something has to happen, or they are going to starve there.
          5. It’s not enough to escape from Egypt – leave behind the states of childhood and young adulthood – you have to get into the wilderness.
            1. This tells us why the Lord chose to appear to the children of Israel during their escape from Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night: He wished to use the imagery of a pillar to show His relationship to His people.
              1. first as a boundary marker that said “these are My people” to all who saw it, and especially to reassure the terrified Hebrews themselves.
              2. And also as a constantly visible sign of His covenant with them that if they would only obey Him, He would take care of them and protect them in all ways.
                1. We need to remember how timid and fearful those people must have been after their lifetime of slavery, their whole lives spent depending on others to make their decisions for them – and now they were suddenly being forced to go forth on their own into the unknown. It must have been unnerving.
                2. Perhaps they would have been reassured if they could have seen Moses and Aaron, but there were far too many of them for that, so instead, the Lord provided a tangible sign of His presence with them that was simply too big for anyone to miss. Everyone in the mob that left Egypt could lift their eyes up above the dust and see the miracle of the pillar that was leading them home.
                3. This image of the Lord’s presence with the children of Israel must also give us comfort, especially if we remember it when we are frightened and unsure of what the future will bring. The Lord has made a covenant with all people, that He will be with us and protect us from the spiritual dangers of life if we will only do our part, if we will only do our best to obey His commandments and to flee from evils. The sign of His presence was huge and obvious to the children of Israel. It is more subtle for us, but it is still there, as the internal sense of the Word reveals.
                4. In our lesson we read how when the Egyptians were chasing the children of Israel, the cloud interposed itself between them and their enemies, and when it did so it brought darkness upon the Egyptians, but brought light to the children of Israel. Further, we learned that when Jehovah looked forth from it to the Egyptians, they were then drowned in the sea.
                  1. The pillar stands for the Lord’s presence with men, as we have seen. The fact that in this passage the pillar stands between the Egyptians and the camp of Israel tells us that the Lord is present with those in evil and falsity as well as with those who are in good and truth (see AC 7989:2).
                  2. However, it also tells us that the Lord’s presence is different with the evil and the good, for the pillar brought darkness to the Egyptians and gave light to the Israelites, and this is because the pillar was heavenly light itself. Heavenly light is a thousand times brighter than the noonday light of the world, but the same light becomes thick darkness with the evil, even when they are in that light itself, and it becomes thicker darkness with them in proportion as the falsity of evil is denser with them. In other words, the Lord appears to everyone in a form consistent with that person’s own spiritual quality (see AC 8197).
                5. The essential point of this story exists in the following 20 words that represent the view, the current state of the children of Israel at this point: For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness. (EXO 14:12).
                  1. To put it another way, we could say that people in this state prefer the slavery to the things of the world to the promise of eternal life because the old ways are easy and familiar and the new ways require effort for an unseen and unverified benefit. When in this state, we are being asked to take a leap of faith.
                  2. Another way to say it is that they are caught in the tension between what they want on the one hand, and what would be good for them on the other.
                    1. The child who wants chocolate cake instead of an apple for a snack.
                    2. The children of Israel who wanted to go up into the Canaanite high places to get drunk and watch the pretty girls dance instead of sacrificing their best ram to Jehovah.
                    3. King David who found it easier to exercise his power to order Bathsheba into his house than to exercise restraint and self control.
                    4. When we come to church we’d rather hear nice stories about people who experienced miracles in their lives than be reminded that we are far from perfect and we need to be given the tools we need to get to work on improving our spiritual lives.
                      1. …and a thousand other examples from the Word and our own lives where we are being asked to choose between what we want and what we need; what’s good (fun), or what’s good for us
                    5. It’s easy for us to see this and have the right idea about it when we put ourselves in the role of Jehovah – the parent.
                      1. Of course our children should eat healthy food.
                      2. Of course the Canaanites needed to be utterly destroyed and removed from the land.
                      3. Of course David needed to be punished for his sins.
                      4. Of course it’s the priest’s job is to instruct, lead, and warn but not to entertain and pander.
                    6. The real challenge is to continue to see it clearly when our states change from being the parent to being the child, when we ourselves are in the states of the children of Israel and we are being told that we have to leave the safety of our habitual way of thinking and venture forth into something new and dangerous.
                      1. We just don’t have the perspective to see that the danger of staying where we are is far more threatening to our spiritual life (the iron chariots of Pharaoh) than following the Lord into the unknown and putting one foot in front of the other and walking toward the sea.
                    7. So – what are we supposed to do? What’s the Lord telling us to do when we are stuck in that place between what we want to do and what we know we ought to do, between surrendering to Pharaoh to return to the safety of slavery in Egypt, or pushing off into a difficult and dangerous unknown simply on trust?
                    8. First, stand still: And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace. (EXO 14:13-14)
                      1. What does it mean to “stand still”? To be quiet in your life and mind. You can’t hear what the Lord has to say to you if you’re still talking. That’s why we often start our services of worship with the passage from Habakkuk: The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (HAB 2:20)
                      2. Then, once you have quieted all that murmuring and crying about what we want, we can for the first time hear what it is that the Lord needs us to do to save our own lives.
                    9. Once we are quiet, the Lord speaks again, this time to Moses: And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. (EXO 14:16-16)
                      1. The obvious next question is “go forward to where”? But that’s a subject for another time, it comes later in the series. It’s enough for now to be quiet in our minds, hear the trusted voice of Jehovah through Moses (the Word), and come to the conviction that He has a plan for us, and He needs us to move forward because until we start moving, He can’t part the waters and show us that His way isn’t nearly as hard as we thought.

(Mat 11:28-30) “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Amen.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: Mat 11:20-30

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: {21} “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. {22} “But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. {23} “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. {24} “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” {25} At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. {26} “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. {27} “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. {28} “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Second Lesson: AC 7989

This was the night when Jehovah was keeping watch means the Lord’s presence with those governed by truth and good and with those ruled by evil and consequently by utter falsity. This is clear from the meaning of ‘night’ as a state of damnation, … and from the meaning of Jehovah’s keeping watch as the Lord’s presence and consequent protection. For through the Lord’s presence those governed by good and therefore guided by truth are given light, and those ruled by evil and consequently by falsity are made blind. Also through the Lord’s presence those who are to be raised into heaven are brought out of damnation, for they are held back from evil and maintained in good by the Lord, and with great force. And through the Lord’s presence too those who are to be cast down into hell are brought to damnation, for as the Lord presents Himself to them more completely, so they descend into evil…. This then is why that state and that time are called the night when Jehovah was keeping watch. Further on, the Lord’s presence is described by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, present there to lead them (See Exod.13:21). And His presence both with those guided by goodness and truth and with those steeped in evil and falsity is described when it says that the pillar positioned itself between the camp of Israel and the camp of the Egyptians, and that when Jehovah looked from it towards the camp of the Egyptians, the Egyptians were drowned in the Sea Suph (Exod. 14:19, 20, 24-27).

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.


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