If one were to be preaching through the book of Exodus, one would not want to forget about the book of Ezekiel. Turns out.
And let me commend to such a one Ezekiel 20 in particular.
The elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord, but the Lord refuses to hear them because of the abominations of their fathers (20:4). And Yahweh proceeds to review their history, the history of their fathers, beginning with when He raised His hand and swore an oath to bring Israel out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey (20:5-6). God says that when He came to Israel to deliver them, He came to call them to repentance: “Then I said to them, ‘Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt'” (20:7). But the Israelites in Egypt did not obey God’s call to repentance in Egypt. They rebelled against Yahweh, did not cast away their abominations, and did not forsake their idols. And therefore God determined to pour out His fury upon them in the midst of Egypt (20:8).
This is striking. We have hints that all is not well in Egypt in the Exodus account. And much later in Joshua’s farewell speech, he is urging Israel to put away the gods they used to serve in Egypt. But here in Ezekiel, the depths of Israel’s sin and rebellion are exposed. And this makes sense given how Israel so quickly wants to return to Egypt, given how hard hearted and unbelieving they are in the wilderness. Israel was not a poor, oppressed people having fallen innocently under the thumb of an evil tyrant. The Pharaoh did not know Yahweh because Israel had forgotten Yahweh. What becomes an endless cycle in the Judges era (forgetting Yahweh, serving other gods, falling into slavery, crying out for deliverance, etc.) seems to be the very pattern at work in Egypt.
It seems damning that even when Israel cries out and groans because of the hard bondage in Egypt, they do not even explicitly address their cries to God. Their cries come up to God; He hears their cries and sees their bondage and sorrow (Ex. 2:23-24, 3:7, 9). But they do not appear to be crying out to God directly, and given Ezekiel’s version of the events, it seems even more likely that they were not crying out to God. Of course we know that there were some faithful still in Egypt (the midwives, Moses’ family), but the vast majority are apparently serving idols, performing abominations, and rebelling against Yahweh. And apparently they continued in these actions even after Moses had come to them and declared God’s intentions.
This means that the plagues on Egypt are not only for the Egyptians. God’s fury is being poured out on all of the idolaters, Egyptian and Israelite. When Moses struck the waters and they turned to blood, blood filled the entire land of Egypt. And there does not seem to be any indication that Goshen was exempt. In fact all three of the first plagues are apparently universal in the “land of Egypt.” The blood, the frogs, and the lice are presented without indication of distinction between Israelites or Egyptians. It is only in the fourth plague that a distinction is made (8:22-23), and while the distinction is not explicitly referenced in every plague following (it’s missing in the sixth and eighth plagues), it is recurring otherwise, suggesting that only the first three were universal and then God began making a difference. The final plague, however, is a potential threat to everyone. Only those who find refuge in houses covered in the blood of the Passover lamb are safe from the Destroyer of the firstborn.
But these plagues are the fury of God not merely on Egypt; Ezekiel says that God was pouring out His anger on Israel. But God did not destroy Israel in Egypt for His name’s sake, so that His name would not be profaned in the midst of the gentiles (Ez. 20:9). Clearly, this is the same God who acted in Christ to reconcile His enemies to Himself. While we were still dead in our sins, while were still enemies, Christ died for us. While Israel was still dead in slavery to idols, God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, providing forgiveness through the lambs that were slain, spotless sons, pointing forward to the Perfect Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Toby: You have thought-provoking material in several of these posts—up and down your blog the past few days. Very thought-provking. They are really well-crafted.
On this one, I am thinking that Israel must learn to die in the midst of her enemies. Moses, made like his brethren, aims to straighten out a breach and to referee the fist fight with one of his brethren (the Israelites are suffering oppression by the Egyptians). He, as a ruler, takes matters into his own hands to settle the hatred, and sins by murdering (Ex. 2:11-15). It's interesting to think that Moses AND Israel must learn about ruling and serving (Ex. 2:14). Anyway, now, Moses must suffer to learn obedience, to learn to rule—and he, therefore, withdraws to the desert. All the while, the people of God, the city of God, are left in the city of man, Egypt; and while there, she must learn His will for godly ruling too.
Exodus 5:20-21 shows that it was tempting for Moses to hold back words of judgment. But faithful rulers follow the Lord's will, the Word. These Israelite officers knew that speaking words of judgment, the coming ministry and words regarding the plagues, would also purge Israel. But Moses and Aaron rightly obeyed to speak the judgments to Pharaoh and the land, and their own people suffered right along with the Egyptians.
Conclusion: those privileged with authority must die; to whom much is given…and so on… God purifies His own, while judging His enemies.
If fits with John 12:23-26; and it fits with Hebrews: through a son's scourging, there's the love of God; after the chastisement, there's the yield of the fruit of righteousness.
There might be a related text, a lengthier one, Acts 19:11-20, that bears on these themes too. Just as the Word spoken to Pharaoh and the Egyptian court had its hardening role, so too, here—in Ephesus—some were hardened (Acts 19:8-9).
But then the more germane section (maybe)—through the judging Word and deeds of Paul, some sons of a Jewish priest are overpowered, and at the same time many others hear and see the prevailing power of God. But now the point, vs 18– “And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.” It looks like Christians had to be purged from their own sin via the judgment from Paul (verse 11). We learn that playing with magic and fire conflicts with Christ’s Lordship—these believers came confessing their sins, and they forsook this godless trade with its fare. And then there was the public purging of the book-burning. Too much of a stretch? Related? Does God in the NT, like the OT, judge His enemies and purge His own in the sweep of one episode and story?
In our union with Jesus Christ, eternal judgment has passed (John 5:24), but the union and communion in and with Jesus is tested, proven, purged, strengthened, etc. We are trained to be like our Teacher. He who endures, shall be saved. The testing on God’s people was/is to be the proving of a faithful witness (Peter’s words in 1 Peter 4:17-18). Paul tells Timothy of the blaspheming and such that the world is doing, and such folly will be silenced; but such activity does not spare hardships from the church (see what is said at 2 Tim. 3:10-13). Those who aim for godliness will suffer (2 Tim. 3:12), but He does bring about deliverance (2 Tim. 3:11).