M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, March 3

Today’s readings are from Exodus 14; Luke 17; Job 32 and 2 Corinthians 2.

Exodus 14 records the miraculous deliverance of Israel through the sea.  It is an event that stuck in the minds of the biblical writers so that you find it referred to as both as past event of God’s mighty deliverance and love, and as a future event, a “new exodus” when God will restore Israel to the land forever.

The location of the sites mentioned in verse 2 are debated.  Wherever Baal Zephon was, the god Zephon was believed to reign in power over the sea (like Neptune in Greek mythology).  Pharaoh thought he could gain victory (vv. 2-3) but once again Yahweh would display his power.

“Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.

The words “turn back” lead some to believe that Israel turned north and the “sea” was a large lake.  However, it seems that the crossing took place farther south in view of the implication that it took the Israelites no less and no more than three days to reach Marah (15:22-23).  The evidence for the location of Marah seems a bit stronger.

From Egypt to Sinai

Map 44 from thebiblejourney.org

The “Bitter Lakes” pictured in the map were likely much larger at that time.

Vv. 5-14 is the first of Israel’s many complaints against Moses and Yahweh that Moses recorded in Scripture.  It is the first of ten “murmurings,” that culminated in God’s judgment of them at Kadesh Barnea (v. 11; Num. 14:22-23).

Josephus wrote that the Egyptians pursued the Israelites with 600 chariots, 50,000 horsemen, and 200,000 footmen, all armed.  This may or may not be accurate (Moses wrote: “600 select chariots, and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers . . . all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army,” vv. 7, 9).

Pharaoh’s overtaking the apparently helpless Israelites camping by the sea and shut in between the two is probably the origin of the popular idiom for a terrible dilemma:  “Between the devil (Pharaoh) and the deep blue (Red!) sea.”

–William MacDonald

Image result for Exodus 14

The strong east wind that God sent (v. 21) recalls the wind from God that swept over the face of the primeval waters in creation (Gen. 1:2).  One wonders if this wind may have been a tornado, and although tornados are usually a non-occurring weather event in that part of the world, this was a time in history when unusual weather events were happening.  Whatever means God used, it allowed Israel to pass through on dry ground and the waters collapsed upon the pursuing Egyptian army (cf. Psalm 106:7-12) and just at the right times, as Moses stretched out his hand.

The end result:

30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

This miraculous deliverance produced “fear” (reverential trust) in Yahweh among the Israelites (v. 31). Their confidence in Moses as well as in God revived (cf. v. 10-12).

The Lord finished the Israelites’ liberation when He destroyed the Egyptian army.  The Israelites’ slavery ended when they left Egypt, but they only began to experience true freedom after they crossed the Red Sea.  The ten plagues had broken Pharaoh’s hold on the Israelites, but the Red Sea deliverance removed them from his reach forever.  God redeemed Israel on the Passover night, but He fully liberated Israel from slavery, finally, at the Red Sea.  In Christian experience, these two works of God—redemption and liberation—occur at the same time; they are two aspects of the same salvation, two sides of the same coin.

Jesus begins Luke 17 dealing with causing others to sin and forgiving others for sinning against us.  We are to watch ourselves that we don’t cause others to sin (17:1-3a) and we are to forgive a person IF they repent (17:3b-4).  We would all like to make excuses–in causing temptation, “but I didn’t know” and in forgiving others, “but this is the nth time!”

Believing it was a faith issue (and it is), they excused themselves for not having enough, but Jesus said, “you really only need a very, very small amount of faith.” (17:5-6).

Jesus then gives the parable of the unworthy servant.  Jesus told this parable to teach His disciples that warning sinning disciples, and forgiving those who sinned and repented: was only their duty.  It was not something for which they should expect a reward from God.  The Pharisees believed that their righteous deeds put God in their debt, as did many of the Jews.  God will indeed reward faithful service (12:35-37, 42-48).  However, that is not because His servants have placed Him in their debt, but because He graciously gives them more than what is just.

Jesus then told a parable about the importance of showing gratitude for the mercy God shows us (Luke 17:11-19).  This passage seems to indicate that the Jews were happy to receive the benefits of Jesus’ ministry, but were unwilling to thank Him or connect His goodness with God.

Jesus ends Luke 17 talking about the arrival of the kingdom, which would be preceded by terrible judgments.

Job 32

Now the fourth friend, Elihu, speaks up.  He has been silent all this time.  He was a fly on the wall.

Elihu was the youngest, and respected them all, but he was angry at both Job and his friends.

Elihu’s speeches set the stage for Yahweh’s response in chapters 38-42.

First, Elihu explains why he is speaking (32:6-22).  They had failed to refute Job and Job had refused to repent.  And, the three friends had fallen silent.

In the next four chapters (33—36 inclusive) Elihu proceeds to unburden himself.  He cites Job’s three major contentions in order to refute them: (1) that he is innocent (33:8, 9); (2) that God’s persecution is therefore an act of wanton power and injustice (33:10-11); and (3) that God has ignored his suffering by refusing to answer him (33:12-13).

2 Corinthians 2 Paul teaches something about forgiving an offender.  Some believe that this is the person disciplined by the church in 1 Cor. 5, but it is probably someone who had directly insulted Paul., challenging his apostolic authority.

Paul had forgiven the offender “in the presence of Christ,” and so they were to do the same.

Although 2:14-17 seems like a digression, it is a very triumphant expression of the victory of Christ.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

William Barclay explains this image (pp. 204-206):

“In Paul’s mind there is the picture of a Roman Triumph and of Christ as a universal conqueror.  The highest honour which could be given to a victorious Roman general was a Triumph.  Before he could win it he must satisfy certain conditions.  He must have been the actual commander-in-chief in the field.  The campaign must have been completely finished, the region pacified and the victorious troops brought home.  Five thousand of the enemy at least must have fallen in one engagement.  A positive extension of territory must have been gained, and not merely a disaster retrieved or an attack repelled.  And the victory must have been won over a foreign foe and not in a civil war.

In an actual Triumph the procession of the victorious general marched through the streets of Rome to the Capitol in the following order.  First, there came the state officials and the senate.  Then there came the trumpeters.  Then there were carried the spoils taken from the conquered land.

For instance, when Titus conquered Jerusalem the seven-branched candlestick, the golden table of the shew-bread and the golden trumpets were carried through the streets of Rome.  Then there came pictures of the conquered land and models of conquered citadels and ships.  There followed the white bull for sacrifice which would be made.  Then there walked the wretched captives, the enemy princes, leaders and generals in chains, shortly to be flung into prison and in all probability almost immediately to be executed.  Then there came the lictors [minor judicial officials] bearing their rods, followed by the musicians with their lyres.  Then there came the priests swinging their censers with the sweet-smelling incense burning in them.

And then there came the general himself.  He stood in a chariot drawn by four horses.  He was clad in a purple tunic embroidered with golden palm leaves, and over it a purple toga marked out with golden stars.  In his hand he held an ivory sceptre with the Roman eagle at the top of it, and over his head a slave held the crown of Jupiter.  After him there rode his family, and finally there came the army wearing all their decorations and shouting Io triumphe! their cry of triumph.

As the procession moved through the streets, all decorated and garlanded, amid the shouting, cheering crowds, it was a tremendous day, a day which might happen only once in a lifetime.

That is the picture that is in Paul’s mind.  He sees the conquering Christ marching in triumph throughout the world, and himself in that conquering train.  It is a triumph which, Paul is certain nothing can stop.  We have seen how in that procession there were the priests swinging the incense-filled censers.  Now to the general and to the victors the perfume from the censers would be the perfume of joy and triumph and life; but to the wretched captives who walked so short a distance ahead it was the perfume of death, for it stood for the past defeat and their coming execution.  So Paul thinks of himself and his fellow apostles preaching the gospel of the triumphant Christ.  To those who will accept it, it is the perfume of life, as it was to the victors; to those who refuse it, it is the perfume of death as it was to the vanquished.  Of one thing Paul was certain—not all the world could defeat Christ.  He lived not in pessimistic fear, but in the glorious optimism which knew the unconquerable majesty of Christ.”

In light of this triumphant vision, Paul asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?”  He is overwhelmed by the vision of the triumphant Christ and wonders how it is possible that he should minister Christ’s message as an ambassador.  The answer will come in 3:5, “our sufficiency is from God.”