First Lesson: Exodus 3: 1-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45b
Second Lesson: Romans 12: 9-21
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 21-28
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today, I want to reflect on perhaps the most well-known story of the Old Testament in the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. Moses is the most important character in the whole Old Testament. Four books of the Bible (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are written about the story of Moses’ life from the time of his birth to his death after forty years of leading the Israelites through the wilderness to the brink of the Promised Land.
The story of Moses starts about three generations before during the story of Joseph. Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. He ends up in prison where he showcases the ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh brings Joseph before him where he interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that Egypt will have harvests of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, so they needed to save grain. Egypt because of Joseph’s talent becomes the richest nation in the world. Joseph becomes second in command to Pharaoh himself. The story ends happily with all of Joseph’s huge family of ten half-brothers, one brother, Dad, and others immigrating to Egypt with Pharaoh’s blessing.
As Genesis ends about 65 years passes between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses. The Egyptian attitude towards the Jewish people changes greatly in this time. The Egyptians figured that the Israelites were becoming too numerous. The Egyptians began to fear that the Israelites could align with Egypt’s enemies in acts of treason. So Pharaoh decided he needs to get harsh with the Israeli immigrants or else supposedly the Egyptians would suffer terrible consequences.
So this background sets up a lot of Moses’ story. Moses’s birth takes place in Egypt at a time when all Jewish boys under the age of two were supposed to be put to death as a way to reign in the Hebrew population. Moses’ mother desperate to save his life puts him in a basket and lets him float down the Nile River taking hope in nothing but dumb luck and chance. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Baby Moses, and she would soon adopt him.
Moses grows up in privilege but one day his life changes as he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses snaps at the sight of an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave. In an attempt to cover up his crime, Moses hides the body. Only for Moses’ secret to be known by everyone, Moses was a murderer, and Pharaoh was going to find him to put him to death.
Moses then flees from Egypt and becomes a Shepherd for a period of 40 years. One day, while tending to sheep, Moses saw the oddest thing that he had ever seen for a bush was burning yet it wasn’t being consumed into ashes.
As Moses went to get a closer look, Moses heard for the first time in his life the voice of God commanding him to travel back to Egypt so that he may deliver the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. Moses was hesitant to go about this task. Moses had a speech impediment and figured he would be laughed out of the room when he approached Pharaoh’s throne. The Lord promises Moses that he would walk alongside him and reunite him with his brother Aaron, a silver-tongued orator who was currently living in Egypt. The Lord also commanded Moses to take his shepherd’s staff with him to Egypt. For it was through this staff that Moses would perform signs and wonders in the presence of others to prove that Moses spoke for the Lord. As Moses returns to Egypt to step into Pharaoh’s presence, Pharaoh’s heart was hard. Pharaoh figured that Moses was nothing more than a magician serving a false God.
So Moses with the Lord’s power brought forth ten plagues to the Land of Egypt: water turned to blood; frogs, gnats, and flies covered the land; all the Egyptian livestock died; boils broke out on every man and beast throughout the land; then comes hail storms, locusts, and perpetual darkness. Pharaoh does not change his position though either through the hardening of his own black heart or God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
Lastly comes forth the most significant of all the plagues of the tenth and final plague in the Passover and the death of the firstborn. It was during this plague that the Angel of Death was going to visit Egypt and take the life of every first-born son. No, differently than Pharaoh attempts to purge Egypt of all Hebrew children in the days of Moses’ birth. The only way for one’s child to survive was to place Lamb’s blood on their door-post so that the Angel of Death would know to pass-over your house with this most horrible of plagues.
It was only after this horrific night that Pharaoh recants his position of never releasing the Israeli slaves, only for Pharaoh to quickly change his mind as he considers how much valuable labor he would be losing. So Pharaoh decides to send his troops out towards the Red Sea to prevent the Israelites from leaving Egypt. Finally, as the Israelites come to the banks of the Red Sea, they appear to be trapped. Only for Moses to pound his staff into the ground so that he may perform his greatest miracle of parting the Red Sea into two so that the Israelites could cross to safety. The Red Sea collapses upon the attacking Egyptian army as soon as the Israelites reached the shore. The Israelites crossing the Red Sea is just a partial history of Moses’ life as we aren’t going to touch on him receiving the Ten Commandments or the forty years spent journeying throughout the wilderness.
But this morning I want to look at the story of Moses from a different angle. I want to explore the question of “Why so much blood had to be shed so that the people of Israel may be let go from Egyptian slavery?”
Let’s consider the bloodshed again in the story of Moses. Pharaoh seeks to kill all Hebrew children born in Egypt. Moses kills an Egyptian. All of Egypt’s livestock is wiped out. The Angel of Death kills all first-born Egyptian sons including Pharaoh’s own. Lastly, Pharaoh’s Army drowns in the Red Sea. All this bloodshed takes place so that the people of Israel may return home, after being forced to move to Egypt because of a famine in the first-place.
What confuses is with all this bloodshed is God’s role in it all? One of the more famous phrases from within the encounter between Moses and Pharaoh is “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” this phrase is present on four separate occasions. These passages have long been one of the scripture’s most fiercely discussed and debated.
Perhaps the greatest debate in all of religion is between free-will and determinism when it comes to human suffering. We could also ask this question as are we responsible for the bad choices that bring about bad things to our life or is God ultimately to blame? We don’t know what to make of these passages with God hardening Pharaoh because they imply that God is the author and the cause of all the evil, death, and destruction that took place within the story of Moses.
I think though to answer the question of God's role in regard to the suffering not only within the story of Moses, but all of human history, we need to go back to the beginning itself with the story of Adam and Eve. What we must remember is before Adam and Eve fell into sin there was no death or destruction, so ultimately human sin is to blame.
As pointed out by Pastor Larry Peters, an important thing to understand about the role of Pharaoh within the story of Moses is that Pharaoh’s heart is only hardened after not only years of abuse being heaped by Pharaoh amongst God’s people. This says nothing of Pharaoh rejecting God’s messengers who sought to correct his wayward course.
For skeptics encountering scripture passages where God actively sees to it that someone acts in such a way that they bring death and destruction to thousands of people naturally assign God being the one to blame.
The reality is that Pharaoh was not some decent, kind-hearted individual who God corrupted to not let his people go. God didn’t turn Pharaoh’s heart black; Pharaoh’s heart was already black rather God merely worked through Pharaoh’s black heart for God’s outcomes.
There are a couple different ways that we can interpret the story of Moses. We can either interpret the story through the means of it or the end of it. The means of the story are all sorts of horrific things taking place within the land of Egypt through God’s intervention and non-intervention. The end of the story has God fulfilling his promise to the people of Israel that he will not abandon, nor will he ever let them go.
As Peters expresses, part of the problem in how we interpret this story has to do with our understanding of God’s role within our lives. Many of us assign all credit for the good things in our life to our talents, and work-ethic, whereas the bad things are assigned to God, who hoists them upon us. Another way to look at this is all good things are seemingly under our control, whereas all bad things are God’s faults. When in reality, how we should be interpreting good and evil is with the remembrance that God works through both good and evil for his ultimate ends.
A while back, there was a Lutheran Pastor who served in the Minnesota legislature who one day was conducting a radio interview, when the Interviewer brought up a recent incident within his home area where a couple children perish within an automobile accident. The Interviewer asked the Pastor what he would say to the children’s parents about their loss?
The Pastor replied “God grieves alongside them in the midst of their pain.” The Pastor would wish to assure that God is there to comfort them and provide care for them in the midst of their suffering. Yet this is precisely the wrong answer to give to such a question of what to say.
For whenever people ask about God’s role in a particularly tragic situation? The only answer that we can give is look towards the cross. I would much rather follow a God who is responsible for death and destruction that can do something about it rather than follow a God who be nice, but is impotent and powerless.
I would rather follow a God, who can intervene in both life and death. As the Apostle Paul makes clear in 1st Corinthians 15 “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless.”
A good friend of mine Warren Baker explained this verse best when he said, “If Christ has not been raised, you should take your Bible and throw it in the fireplace”.
We can look over the story of Moses and Pharaoh see all sorts of death and mayhem then inevitability try to make sense of God’s role in it all. We will ultimately fall short in our search for answers. What we must remember is that God’s role in the story is not about bringing forth death and destruction rather God’s role is about rescuing us from death and destruction. God’s role in the story of Moses points towards God redeeming life, not taking it away, for just as God freed the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery, God would soon free all of his people from our own bondage to sin. As we hear this bloody story of Moses, and Pharaoh what we remember that our God’s ultimate purposes are not death and destruction, but rather our forgiveness and salvation. Amen
 Exodus 1:10
 Exodus 1:22
 Exodus 2:3
 Exodus 2:10
 Exodus 2:11-15
 Exodus 3:2
 Exodus 3:7-10
 Exodus 3:11
 Exodus 4:10
 Exodus 4:14
 Exodus 4:4
 Exodus 4:5, 4:21
 Exodus 7:11
 Exodus 7:14-25
 Exodus 8:1-15
 Exodus 8:16-19
 Exodus 8:20-32
 Exodus 9:1-7
 Exodus 9:8-12
 Exodus 9:13-32
 Exodus 10:1-20
 Exodus 10:21-29
 Exodus 10:27
 Exodus 11
 Exodus 12:1-28
 Exodus 12:29-30
 Exodus 12:31-32
 Exodus 14:5
 Exodus 14:6-9
 Exodus 14:10-12
 Exodus 14:21-22
 Exodus 14:26-29
 Exodus 20
 Exodus 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10
 Peters, Pastor Larry. “Does God harden the hearts of people?”. Pastoral Meanderings: The Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Parish Pastor. blogger.com. 17.Oct.2013. Web. Aug.26.2014.
 Peters, Pastor Larry. “Does God harden the hearts of people?”.
 1st Corinthians 15:14