Part 1: Sermon Discussion
Today’s sermon was a vision-casting sermon. After reflecting on several passages of Scripture (including Psalm 95, 1 Peter 5, and Proverbs 29:18), we looked at the past, present and future of our church ministry. I personally am humbled to be a part of a legacy that has lasted for 60 years, and I pray for many, many more years of effective ministry until the Lord returns.
During the discussion about future ministry endeavors, I pointed out three areas that the leadership of BBC will be discussing in the upcoming months: 1) Adult Outreach, 2) Wednesday Night Programming, and 3) The Mortgage and Pastoral Staff.
Keeping in mind that details of all three have not been ironed out, and that we mostly in preliminary stages in discussing most of these things, I’d like to hear from you. What questions do you have? Comments? Concerns? You can use the comment section down below to post your feedback (keep in mind it is a public forum!).
Above all, I encourage you to pray for our ministries, present and future. Consider how God can use your gifts, passions and resources to continue to help us effectively evangelize the lost, disciple our community and glorify God as we do so.
Part 2: Exodus 16, Psalm 95, and Hebrews 3-4:
The Interrelationship between Pharaoh, Israel and Us
Exodus 15:22-17:7 is a unit of Scripture that relates the story of the Israelites and their “grumbling” to God over the condition of the wilderness. It follows the miraculous redemption of the nation from the Egyptians as God leads Israel from the land of Egypt after a series of plagues, guiding them with a pillar of cloud and fire, parts the Red Sea and supernaturally closing it in time to destroy the enemies.
In 15:22-27, the Israelites complain because they have been in the wilderness for three days and have not yet come across fresh water. God provides, miraculously. Chapter 16 narratives the events of God providing yet again in response to grumbling: this time, quail and manna for the hungry bellies of the Israelites. Here in particular the issue of Sabbath rest arises, as the Israelites are commanded to collect double manna on Friday in order for them to enjoy the break on Saturday. They, of course, disobey. 17:1-7 is another water story, this time at Rephidim, and this time the water coming not from a sweetening log, but from a rock.
How does this story relate to us, the Christian reader? In answering this question, it may be helpful to seek guidance from two other interpreters, one from the Old Covenant, one from the New.
Psalm 95 falls near the beginning of Book IV of the Psalms. It lacks a superscription in Hebrew, but the LXX attributes it to David, and Hebrews 4:7 affirms this authorship. The first half of the psalm, verses 1-7a, is a call for the worshiper to come before the Lord and praise Him for His acts of creation and for His shepherding of His people. The tone abruptly shifts in the psalm when we get to the last line of verse 7. There, the text reads:
Psalm 95:7b Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Clearly this is a reference to our source text in Exodus 16. The psalm mentions Meribah and Massah (Ex 17:7), putting God to the test (17:2 and 7), and even a mention of entering the “rest” of God, which has ties to the Sabbath issue of Exodus 16.
But what is of particular value to us is the warning for the psalm’s readers to not “harden your hearts” as the Israelites did in Exodus. This language of hardening is absent from our particular Exodus passage, but certainly not from the book as a whole. It is a catchphrase in the Pharaoh narrative, occurring some eighteen times, referring mainly to Pharaoh (and at least once including the Egyptians) and his response to God’s continual judgment upon Egypt. Over and over again Pharaoh has a chance to repent, but even after facing a dozen or so miraculous acts of God, he does not. The reader becomes frustrated at his stubbornness, wondering why he fails to bow to the hand of God, and the narrator indeed plays with us here with his variation of who is hardening the heart of whom.
Back to our psalm. Here, it is the hearts of the Israelites that are being hardened as they grumble against God, even in the face of miraculous acts of provision. The psalmist is using Pharaohnic language to tell us, in part, that Israel is acting the role of the Egyptian king.
This is not the only connection. Exodus 15:25 and 17:4, which bookend our narrative unit, both have Moses “crying out” to God. This may remind the reader of the plight of the Israelites back in the opening chapters of Exodus. There, too, they “cried out” to the Lord because of the harsh treatment of Pharaoh. Now, Moses is in the role of the cryer, but Pharaoh is not his instrument of pain: it is the Israelites. Moses here becomes the Israelites and the Israelites become Pharaoh. Psalm 95, through a clever use of language and allusion, draws our minds back to the Exodus narrative.
Psalm 95 is not the only time in the Bible we hear Psalm 95. The author of Hebrews (whoever he may be) quotes in entirety the last part of the psalm that refers to Exodus. But here, the author of Hebrews relates the meaning to Christian believers.
After arguing that Jesus is greater than Moses (3:1-6), the author quotes our passage (3:7-11) and applies it (3:12-14). It is here in the application that we see again allusions to our passage in Exodus. We are commanded to exhort each other daily to avoid the hardening of our hearts (3:13). This is a nice link back to Exodus 16, which stresses the daily provision of God needed by the Israelites in their time of testing. To pass the test and walk with God, they must learn to rely on Him every single day. Otherwise their bellies will be hungry or their food rotten. The message of the author of Hebrews is in line with the message of Moses in Exodus 16.
The author of Hebrews again quotes the psalm, this time mainly focusing on verse 8. A series of rhetorical questions (3:16-18) push us to his conclusion that the people who heard and rebelled were those same people who experienced God’s provisions and died in the wilderness, unable to enter the Land because of unbelief (3:19).
In Hebrew 4, the “rest” that is the Promised Land in Exodus is now applied to the future rest that believers will experience in God’s presence. The author clearly states, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (4:9, ESV). The encouragement is to strive to enter that rest (4:11), as it is a reward for our obedience here on this earth.
So we see that the message of the book of Exodus is still very much alive and applicable for us today. Be careful not to harden your hearts against God’s work, and learn to rely on Him each and every day. One day we will enjoy eternal rest with God, but for now, let us continue to strive forward in obedience.