A sermon on Exodus 6:28-7:13 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on August 2, 2020, the seventh Sunday after Pentecost. This is the third sermon in an ongoing series on the book of Exodus.
A Brief Catch-Up
As we move to 6:28-7:13, let’s do a bit of catch-up in Exodus. Moses has now returned to Egypt, he and Aaron have made an initial request to Pharaoh (which was laughed off in chapter 5), the slavery of Israel has gotten worse (“no more straw, but you still have to make bricks!” says Pharaoh), Israel’s attitude has gotten worse, and all the while, God’s promises of deliverance have been reasserted. With that, a battle is about to begin. Let’s go to prayer.
Gracious God and most merciful Father, you have granted us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word: Assist us with your Spirit, that the same Word may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up and edify us into the perfect dwelling place of your Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues; grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
I. Introduction: Who Is at the Center of Your Bible?
As we look at Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, I want to begin this question: who is at the center of your Bible? As you read Holy Scripture, is your gaze constantly directed upward to God or back at yourself?
Perhaps one the best litmus tests here is to ask what you think about that classic Sunday school lesson found in 1 Samuel 17. I’m talking here about David and Goliath. Is this a story about us, or about the saving, redemptive, strong hand of God? Is it a story designed to help us see how God will use us to slay giants, or is it story meant to direct our hearts upwards towards the giant slayer: Jesus the Messiah. You see, David stand in Jesus’ place in that story – we’re meant to see Jesus as the hero of that story, not us. You may have seen the mug inspired by this event. It has a picture of the two contestants on it and two simple words: “Goliath” and “not you.”
I say all that to bring us around to question, who is the hero of Exodus? Well, as we heard last week in chapter 3, YHWH, the great I AM, is the hero of Exodus. This is something, as we’re going to see, that both Israel and Egypt have to learn and both will be humbled by God in different ways
II. Moses (and Israel) is Humbled by God (vs. 6:28-7:6)
It sounds a little odd to say, but even Moses, in his humility, had to learn that this story is about God and his purposes (Chris Wright, All Souls Church). He says, literally, that he is of dull lips (6:30) – how will Pharaoh ever listen to him? You see, this isn’t a story primarily about leadership or management lessons for today, but the sovereign and good purposes of Almighty God.
Moses’s comment here connects back to chapter 4. When YHWH revealed himself to Moses, this was one Moses’s objections: “10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (4:10-12)
See, Moses has trouble comprehending God’s call on his life because, at this moment, he thinks that the ability to deliver what God asked was based upon him.
Listen to Peter Enns words here:
There is a battle in Exodus over which “I” should be the focus of attention. … “Moses feels his ‘I’ is inadequate for the task; Yahweh responds by saying that it is his ‘I’ that is to be reckoned with. Verse 12 is particularly striking. The clause ‘I will help you speak’ literally translates, ‘I will be with your mouth.’ … This exchange between Moses and Yahweh gets at the heart of Moses’ repeated attempts to extricate himself from God’s call. Moses seems to resist God’s call because he assumes that he is playing the central role in the deliverance of the Israelites. … What Moses does not yet understand is that God cares more about Israel’s deliverance than he does, and God is fully capable of directing the means to bring this about. It is God who will bring his people out of Egypt. He will display his might precisely by working through weak and ordinary means. Moses has not yet learned that salvation is of the Lord.” (Exodus: The NIV Application Commentary, pg. 111)
Friends, God gave Moses a gospel word in Exodus. He said I will deliver my people and he simply told Moses to speak all that I command. Do we trust the word of the gospel that God has given us to be effective? Do we give too much attention to the wrapper in which in the gift is contained or the vessel through which it comes? Is our protestation about what God can or cannot do through us a false humility? Oh, God could never use me to disciple someone else, I’m not learned enough! Or, God could never use me to bring someone else to faith – I’m not eloquent enough! Does that sound like anyone you know from the book of Exodus?
The power that matters is the power of God. The message that matters is the message of Christ. The persuasion that matters is the persuasion of the Holy Spirit. We need to have a right humility, depending upon and giving glory to, God Almighty. He is the one at work in us.
III. Egypt (and All the World) is Humbled by God (vs. 8-13)
8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’”
Humbled by the ordinary
Egypt is humbled in an odd way. Out of the wilderness, in walks a shepherd with a stick in his hand. The staff also recalls Moses encounter with YHWH back in chapter 4. Moses tell the Lord, if you send me, they won’t believe me! To which the Lord responds:
2“What is that in your hand?” [Moses] said, “A staff.” 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it.” On the way out of God’s presence, God reminds Moses to take his staff: “And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” (4:17)
Listen again to Peter Enns words here:
“The dialogue between Moses and God ends somewhat abruptly: ‘Don’t forget your staff, Moses.’ … The reminder to take the staff seems somewhat anticlimactic.
But perhaps Moses needs some reminding. He is about to leave behind forever the world of shepherding. What will he need a staff for? But the staff is to become a conspicuous player in the plague narratives. The shepherd’s staff will humble the world power at the time. The raised staff will cause the water of the sea to part and allow Moses to shepherd his people through to the other side and on to Mount Horeb. God will use this symbol of lowliness and unimportance to bring about the central [saving] act of the Old Testament. ‘Don’t forget your staff, Moses.’ (Peter Enns, Exodus: The NIV Application Commentary, pg. 113)
This staff, which will humble the mighty, reminds us of strange power of the Cross of Christ. It strong, but not according to the world’s strength, it is recognized everywhere, and, more and more, seemingly nowhere. The staff of Moses, reminds us of the reality of what Paul said long after: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
Humbled by true authority
Lastly, the Egyptians are humbled by God’s authority. As Moses throws down his staff, it becomes a serpent. Clearly, this is supernatural. But why a serpent?
Two things. Most of us have probably seen the headdress worn by Egyptian Pharaohs. What was on them? A snake. This was a symbol of Egyptian royal power. Make no mistake, this is a power showdown. Moreover, it was a “thing” (as we would say) amongst Egyptian magicians to purportedly be able to turn sticks into snakes. So here, we might say the genuine article swallows up the con trick. What’s more, Moses and Aaron do not have to conjure, they simply show up and do what told what God told them to do. See, again, this is not so much a show down between Moses and Pharaoh as it is between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt. The living God is shown to be greater in might and in power than the false idols of Egypt.
Once more from Peter Enns, “Perhaps the central point of this passage is that counterfeit power, although real power, is not lasting power, and neither the Israelites nor the Egyptians should be fooled by appearances.” (Peter Enns, Exodus: The NIV Application Commentary, pg. 198)
Secondly, the showdown of the snakes recalls the Snake from the Garden. What’s more ironic and appropriate than God’s snake devouring the snake of the secret arts of Egypt?
I close with verse 5. The Lord says, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
It may sound odd, but where do you need to continue to read Scripture with God at center instead of the peripheral? How can you make sure you’re seeing God as the hero of Scripture instead of yourself? The message of Exodus is that, despite all odds, he is able. That’s the best message God can give us. That message may not be about us, but it is truly and deeply for us.
Let us trust him, now and always. Amen.