“The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said’.”
They may have meant what they said at the time, or perhaps they just said what Moses wanted to hear. But, nevertheless, they were accepting their God-given role as the kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But what, exactly, were they letting themselves in for?
It’s awesome if you think about it. A priest is someone who interacts with God on behalf of His people. It is his job to make sure that all is right between man and God. They had taken on a role of breathtaking importance, God’s people on earth. If they had known in advance the places this relationship was going to take them in later years they would have made an about-turn back to Egyptian slavery, there and then.
Ah yes, the Egyptian slavery. What was that all about, then? The promises given by God to Abraham must have seemed a bit far-fetched as his descendants, the Israelites, sweated in the Egyptian quarries and building sites of Pharaoh. After all, hadn’t the Lord, in Genesis 15:18-21, promised the land ‘… from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates’? It must have seemed a sick joke to those Hebrew slaves, for whom the ‘river of Egypt’ was a place where they drew their sustenance between work shifts. How on earth had they got into that predicament?
God did warn them, after all. He did tell Abraham that his descendants were going to spend a good 400 years or so as ‘strangers in a strange land’ and Egypt was never one of Abraham’s favourite places, no doubt a reminder of his woman troubles. First, there was that delicate matter between Pharaoh and Sarah (‘she’s my sister, no – sorry – she’s my wife!’). Then, of course, there was the matter of frisky Hagar the Egyptian, the mother of Ishmael, but God’s plans are His own and it was necessary for Abraham’s descendants, led by his great grandchild, Joseph, to settle in Egypt until the sins of the Amorites reached their full measure (Genesis 15:16). So they arrived in Egypt as proud guests of ‘our brother the governor’ and watched as things went steadily downhill from there, ending up as slaves to a new Pharaoh, many years later.
Then Moses came along and, on that first Passover night, the first small step was made towards fulfilling God’s promise when over 2 million Israelites made a bee-line eastwards for the Red Sea and freedom. They were coming home, to the land promised by God to Abraham all of those years earlier, but it wasn’t going to be that easy as they spent 40 years circling around the Sinai desert getting nowhere. It was their own fault because it didn’t have to be that way.
They were to become mankind’s representatives to God almighty. Of the scores of peoples and nations scattered through the earth at that time, from the Chinese in the far east to the Egyptians in the west, it was this bedraggled band of ex-slaves who had been chosen as a channel for God’s dealings with humanity. He chose them not because they were the largest nation, or the nicest people, or the cleverest folk, or the most moral of human beings. He chose them because He is God and He chooses whom He chooses. He chose them for a role that promised both blessings and curses, depending on decisions that they would make. He gave them a burden that, frankly, was going to be a millstone around their necks and other nations should feel eternally grateful that it was the Jewish people that were chosen and not any other. He chose them, knowing full well that they were going, initially, to fail:
“And the LORD said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’ And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.” (Deuteronomy 31:16-18)
He knew they were going to fail, not because they were the most insignificant nation, or the nastiest people, or a bunch of idiots, or the most immoral of folk. He knew they were going to fail because they were human beings and, in matters of what warms the heart of God, we are all doomed to failure. The Jewish people were no different in that respect from the Egyptians, or Chinese, or Hittites would have been. It’s no use condemning them for their failure, just as it is no use castigating them for their rejection of Jesus; they were just doing exactly what you and I would have done.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation)