Moses Returns to Egypt (II)
Manna 83: Spring

Adapted from a sermon by Aun-Quek Chin—Singapore

 

 

MY SON, MY FIRSTBORN

 

We know God’s fearsome command to Moses before he left for Egypt to free his Hebrew brothers:

 

“When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” ’ ” (Ex 4:21–23)

 

These words, solemn and threatening as they are, are strangely comforting. They show a Father willing to do anything to rescue a cherished child, willing even to trade life for life. With this, we come to the main theme of what we can learn from the story of Moses as he journeyed back to the land of his youth in order to redeem and restore God’s chosen people: sonship.

 

Sonship is a major theme in Christianity. Jesus is the Son of God (Mt 3:17), and so are we. From the moment we rise, new and restored, the waters of our baptism still fresh on our skins, God becomes our Father and we join a global family of brothers and sisters. A family, true and eternal, awaits us at the doors of our redemption. With this comes certain things that we must always remember—reminders that God also saw fit to give to Moses just before he departed to perform one of God’s greatest works. Let us explore them.

 

 

BELIEVE IN YOUR SONSHIP

 

“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” ’ ” (Ex 4:22)

 

This verse captures one of the greatest moments in man’s history. Here we have God, the Elohim, the Alpha and the Omega, squaring off against Pharaoh—in his time quite possibly the most powerful man on earth, with an army at his command that could make the earth tremble beneath them. And God is telling the man who thought he could have everything he wanted—who was used to getting everything he wanted—that some things he simply cannot have. In this instance, he had no claim over God’s children.

 

Herein lies the first thing we can learn from God’s words to Moses. Being a son of God means that we belong to no other. We are liberated from worldly dominion and all the fear, pressure and sinfulness that come with it. We are, fully and always, God’s children. Simple as this is to understand, it can be difficult to faithfully hold on to over time. This conviction is tested by the numerous problems that we constantly face in our personal lives. How is it possible, we ask bitterly, that the supposed sons and daughters of the eternal God could be suffering so harshly and so unrelentingly? This may even cross the mind of our unbelieving friends, who watch with pity as we Christians languish in our troubles while we weep in our prayers, begging for just a little reprieve. Fundamentally, it can be hard to believe, much less confidently declare to our unbelieving neighbors, that we are the treasured sons of God when it too often seems that we have been left as orphans, alone and defenseless in the vast wilderness of the world. What does the Bible have to say on this?

 

There is a pattern that recurs throughout the Bible. In every story, in every lesson and parable, there is a sense that faith, worship and sonship are all processes. And while it may seem that God is faint and inconspicuous in the midst of our daily lives, the Bible tells us that we can be sure that God will be there at the end, waiting to receive us into a greater glory. So reads Revelation 1:6–7: “[To Him who] has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” 

 

From being sons and daughters on earth, to kings and priests in heaven—that is God’s promise to us. This idea of there being a process, an evolution, to our Christianity and this assurance of our vindication means one important thing. It means that we have to do more than merely possess our sonship, we have to believe in it and work at it. When God chose to call the people of Israel His sons, He was telling Moses, Pharaoh, and all the Israelites who would hear of this that slavery was not their true calling, Egypt not their true home, and Pharaoh not their true lord. God was telling them that they were only pilgrims, that there was somewhere else they needed to be, and there was work to be done to get there. The same is true for us today. We are not promised a quiet and uninterrupted life in the Egypts and Babylons of the world. We are promised hardship and toil. For we are pilgrims, making our long and arduous way to the promised land, where our Father stands ready to greet us as sons and heirs.

 

 

TO SIGH AND WANDER

 

On the topic of the Christian son and his trials, we can learn another valuable lesson from God’s counsel to Moses.

 

We read in Exodus 4:21 of God’s famous guarantee to Moses that He would “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart, so that he will not let the people go.” This passage continues to puzzle many first-time, and even veteran, readers. Why, if God truly wanted to free His people through Moses, would He deliberately sabotage Moses’ efforts? While there are various and meaningful answers to this question, we will look at one of them which sheds light on what it means to be a son of God today.

 

God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to harden because He wanted Moses and the Israelites to understand that being sons of God did not entail a trouble-free life. Under God’s direction, Moses would perform a whole slew of miracles, but even until the very end, these were not enough to sway Pharaoh’s will. God told them that Pharaoh would be stubborn and difficult, but the sons of God are not apathetic and lazy. The ten plagues were impressive, yes, but the Israelites also had to fight off despair at every turn and preserve an inner optimism that was quickly losing faith in itself, and worse, God. Armies of locusts and streams of blood filled the streets of Egypt, but one of the most significant battles was waged by the will of every Israelite, who had to stand behind Moses as he did the will of the Lord.

 

God wants the true church to understand the same thing. Sonship, as with many things, guarantees privilege but not always pleasure. Similar to the Israelites, salvation and freedom lies patiently at the door, and it is for us to reach out and take it. We have been blessed with this promise and privilege. But Jesus has disclosed that the Christian would sigh and wander in his life, just as much as he hopes for signs and wonders. Our problems will be as persistent and stubborn as Pharaoh, and it is likely that no army of frogs and locusts will come to our rescue. But the battle that truly wins the war against sin is the battle the Israelites first won as they made their exodus from Egypt. It is the spiritual battle within. 

 

 

THE SPIRIT AND THE SON

 

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:6–7)

 

We have been made sons of God by His grace. Sin had rendered us orphans, but by grace Jesus came to die that we may once more be restored as sons of God.

 

There are three things we can learn about the grace of our sonship.

 

Firstly, this means that we have to pray earnestly and repentantly for the Holy Spirit to be with us, and in us.

 

God has made us His sons—“adopted” us, as the apostle Paul puts it (Rom 8:15–17)—so we are His heirs, made manifest by the Holy Spirit who testifies of His presence in us and of Jesus who reconciled us to our Father. The Holy Spirit is an indispensable part of our spiritual sonship. He not only testifies of our salvation (Eph 1:13–14), but also serves as a powerful daily reminder that we are blessed beneficiaries of an undeserved and boundless grace.

 

While this sounds very pleasing in theory, the less glamorous part dawns upon us when it comes to actually praying for the Holy Spirit. For most of us, receiving the Holy Spirit was a long and, sometimes, wearying struggle. Long nights, swollen knees, clammy palms and parched throats—many of us have experienced these in the process. Beyond the body, what is the best spirit to have when we pray for the Holy Spirit? When we pray for the Spirit, we should pray as more than a believer, a Christian, or church member. We should pray as a son—a son of God. We must believe in God’s promise, and its fulfillment, as the birthright of the children of God. Above all, we must never forget that God wants us to receive His Spirit. With this knowledge, we can be confident when we bend our knees and bow our heads, knowing that we are sons reaching out to grasp an inheritance that is already ours.

 

 

FIRSTBORN

 

Interestingly, God does not just declare Israel His son. He goes on to emphasize to Moses that Israel is His firstborn. From this, we learn the second point about the grace of sonship: God greatly esteems His people, and while most of us True Jesus Church (TJC) Christians might not be of the original chosen, we are now, by God’s grace, His spiritual sons and are each of utmost importance to Him. The elder Peter describes us as those “who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).

 

We were once orphans. A long time ago, humanity had turned away from God through unrepentant sin. We had disqualified ourselves from God’s goodness. Peter’s simple before-and-after formulation tersely drives the message home: because, and only because, God’s mercy and love for us could cover all our sins, we Gentile believers have the chance to participate in His great salvation plan. Not just that, we need to embody the grace we have been given and spread the good news of our salvation, for we are not merely members, but active emissaries, warriors, and ministers of God and His kingdom. Which is why Peter declares: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). We were once lost stragglers on earth, but God’s grace has made us pilgrims on our way to heaven.

 

Although we should be proud of our Christian status, God does not want us to merely luxuriate in our salvation, but rather obey our noble commission to be world-changers—to preach the gospel, fight for the weak, and be an example to others that they might see the beauty of what it means to be a son of God.

 

 

RIGHTEOUS GRACE

 

“So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” (Ex 4:23)

 

This message for Pharaoh was delivered matter-of-factly by God. God, the Creator and Sustainer of life, does not treat the lives of His creation carelessly. The stakes here must have indeed been very high. While this is again further evidence of the great depth of God’s love for His son Israel, we learn from this the third lesson about the grace of our sonship: God’s grace, and by extension our sonship, is not a free pass to do whatever we want in this lifetime. Just as we understand that grace is not a panacea for all our problems, we must see also that grace does not exempt us from the consequences of God’s righteousness.

 

Pharaoh certainly learned this lesson firsthand. The Egyptian ruler faced the full measure of God’s wrath, motivated by the fullness of God’s love for His people, as well as His abhorrence of evil. People might fall for the illusion that, as baptized believers of God, their sins might be judged more leniently than those of the arrogant tyrant of a heathen land. Nothing is further from the truth: this myth mistakes leniency for love. It is precisely because we have been faithful church-going hearers and practitioners of the word that God holds us to a higher standard. Blessed with the truth of salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the guidance of the true church, TJC Christians are, to borrow from Paul, “without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

 

Have we repented? This question has nagged at and irritated many a conscience-pricked Christian. But it is a question worth repeating because our response matters. God is not looking for perfect sons who live perfect lives. He knows we were once orphans, unsure of where we belonged, or where we were headed. And God knows that even after we have come to Him, some of us might still be searching. What God seeks, therefore, are sons who, although human and bound to stray, know deep in their hearts that in God they have a Father, and in the church and heaven, a home. God has given us time to find our spiritual rest. We must seize it before that time, along with our salvation, passes us by.

 

 

HUSBAND OF BLOOD

 

After Moses set off for Egypt, it was not long before drama found him again. This remarkable incident spans only three verses (Ex 4:24–26), but it tells us the final lesson we ought to know about our sonship. God does not treat promises lightly—just as He keeps all His covenants, so does He expect His children to be faithful to the promise of our election and salvation.

 

Many things must have weighed heavy on Moses’ mind. It seemed like the fate of an entire nation rested on his shoulders, and what stood between him and his mission was one of the mightiest kings and his armies. Moses’ wife, Zipporah, similarly, had her plate full. An abrupt departure to embark on an uncertain journey to a strange land must have been challenging, to say the least. Is it possible, then, to pardon these two unsettled parents for not circumcising their child? No, was God’s fearsome reply. The Bible draws a stark picture: God wanted to “kill” Moses for his negligence. Why?

 

The age of Abraham was a long time ago. Circumcision, the mark of God’s sons, was similarly ancient. But God loved His sons and wanted them to be a separate people, a holy people. God would not allow the passage of time to dilute His love for His people, and their faithfulness to His word. In a way, this was an act of assurance for Moses. I have made you a promise, God was telling Moses, and I keep my promises—you will free My people from Egypt and be their leader.

 

To Christians today, the message is the same. The Bible tells us again and again that we are treasured sons and heirs of God, destined for an inheritance that surpasses all things. We are told also that to qualify we must truly believe in our Christian convictions, and truly be, in our daily lives, a son of God. God has shown us, with Moses as an example, that He cares very much about how we live up to our titles as His sons. God remembers His sons.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

Sometimes, it may be hard to see what the fuss is all about. Sons, priests, the chosen, the elect—so many titles, but what do they all mean? Why are they so important? Moses showed us. He was an ordinary Hebrew, a shepherd, a husband, and a father. He no longer held any titles of significance. But Moses learned what it meant to be a son of God, even before God created the appointment for us. Our sonship is the Holy Spirit within us—the Spirit of trust in God’s deliverance, the Spirit of endurance, the Spirit of faithfulness. Today, God welcomes anyone willing to receive and be led by this Spirit to be part of His glorious family. He is calling for His sons. It is time to respond.

 

 

Date
Jul. 13, 2017
Author
Aun-Quek Chin
Publisher
True Jesus Church
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