Let My People Go
"I have surely seen the oppression of my people," said God to Moses while the bush burned. Thus begins the greatest rescue operation ever conducted on Earth as thousands upon thousands of slaves are removed from one nation to begin a journey to the land of promise.
The Bible contains a number of type and antitype situations. Isaac is a type of the antitype Jesus, as his father was willing to let his only son die. The salvation of Noah and his family through water is a type of the water baptism involved in the salvation of modern men (1 Peter 3:20-21).
In the exodus of fleshly Israel, the Lord provides us a type of the sinner's departure from his own slavery to iniquity and the most wicked Pharaoh of all, Satan. God's desire on either side of the Red Sea is answered in Exodus 6:6-7: "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God."
"[I] have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:7-8).
This deliverance was no simple operation. Moses reasoned with Pharaoh and then plagued him with all manner of inconvenience and infestation, before the death angel slew all Egypt's firstborn and Pharaoh relented. Even then, his mind shifted again and he sent his armies to pursue Israel and bring them back to slavery.
God led the people along a more circuitous route that they might avoid the way of the Philistines and the rigors of battle. They arrived at a great obstacle, therefore, in the Red Sea, but Moses was able to part it so that they could walk through and escape. As the last little one reached the far bank, the waters crashed back upon themselves and the pursuing Egyptians were swallowed up.
The journey from Egyptian slavery to Canaan's cusp ordinarily would have taken eleven days (Deuteronomy 1:2). Instead, Israel wandered about the wilderness between them for 40 years. Forty years of grumbling, complaining, rebellion and apostasy. Thus many that would have spent most of their lives in Canaan died before they ever saw it. Only a few, that is, two, made the entire journey successfully.
Sinners Are Slaves
The devil is the most villainous slave owner the world has ever known. Through the enticements of uncleanness and lawlessness, he is able to enslave the expanse of mankind to wickedness. God's creatures actually sell themselves into his chains. "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered" (Romans 6:16-17).
So insatiable is the appetite of our Pharaoh that he is not satisfied that a single soul should see its liberty, but through cunning devices, deceives the hearts of the simple (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Hunger and Thirst
God's attention was garnered by Israel because he heard them groaning in bondage and decided to show them mercy by deliverance and redemption. Jesus taught likewise that sinners could only be rescued from the devil's chains if they hungered and thirsted after righteousness (Matthew 5:6).
A passing, momentary interest in freedom will not effect a conversion for Jesus came to save the heavy-laden laborer in search of rest for the soul (Matthew 11:28-30). "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).
Few there are these days whose consciences afflict them so deeply while in sin that they diligently yearn for God's grace and mercy. But without that gasp for pity, man cannot be saved. "But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).
God's Plan of Redemption
Just as easily, Jehovah could have instantly transported all Israel to Canaan, without afflicting the Egyptians or bothering with Moses. Instead, he mapped out a detailed plan of redemption.
It is a source of constant humility and gratitude that his plan to redeem me from slavery to sin required the precious blood of his own son, the one man since Adam that had no need of mercy.
In the original exodus, God delivered those in Egypt who had been instructed to smear sacrifice blood on their doorposts and lintels. That blood was a sign to the death angel to pass over to the next house that of an Egyptian.
In our exodus, God passes over our sins only when the blood of Christ is sprinkled upon the doorposts of our hearts and souls (Hebrews 10:22). "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7).
By faith, Moses and all Israel kept that first Passover, obeying God's instructions and finding his grace (Hebrews 11:28). By faith, sinners today must obey the gospel of Jesus Christ to find God's grace (1 Peter 4:17).
The Pursuit of the Adversary
But Israel's vengeful adversary was not patient to let God's people go, but pursued them with great force, intending to make them slaves again and forever. Likewise, our adversary, the devil continues prowling about the souls of the redeemed, seeking to devour them anew (1 Peter 5:8). "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil... above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one" (Ephesians 6:11, 16).
The devil attempts to prevent or mitigate the liberating effects of salvation by misunderstanding, tribulation, persecution, worries and covetousness (Matthew 13:18-22). No stratagem is too dishonorable for the former Pharaoh of spiritual Israel, marching to Canaan. The devil wants you back.
He will constantly remind you of the fleshly pleasures of your sinful life before Christ. As the Israelites longed for the leeks and onions of Egyptian bondage, so Satan will try to introduce in the liberated sinner nostalgia for the passing pleasures of iniquity (Hebrews 11:15-16).
As they passed through the Red Sea and journeyed beneath God's cloud, Israel was baptized into Moses and his delegated authority from God (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). This baptism evidenced the deliverance from slavery to freedom.
In a like figure, the sinner is baptized today into Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins. Christian baptism is a washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26) whereby the sinner comes into contact with the redemptive power of the Lord's shed blood (Romans 6:1-4).
A Covenant Relationship
The exodus of Israel was predicated upon a covenant God made with Israel, to be their God so long as they were his people. His blessings and guidance were conditional upon the terms of that covenant. Moses brought down the 10 commandments from Sinai and then the additional tenets of that law that are recorded in the book of Exodus. Old Israel was a covenant people.
Spiritual Israel is also a covenant kingdom. It is a better covenant than Moses to which we belong (Hebrews 7:22), having taken the place of the former covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13), and owning Christ as its mediator (Hebrews 12:24). We are added as parties to that covenant when we begin our exodus out of sin, by obeying from the heart that form of doctrine to which we are delivered (Romans 6:17).
This covenant requires faithfulness on the part of each side. God is faithful in all things and we are challenged to craft our hearts after the example of His son. "Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:13-16).
Strangers and Pilgrims
Israel's conquest of Canaan made them strangers in a foreign land, whatever soil they marched upon. They were feared and loathed by the residents of the Promised Land. Their God was different and they lived by a different law.
The saints of today's world are no less strangers and pilgrims along life's journey. Despite the fact that so many call themselves Christians, it is always evident that the number of the faithful is truly small. "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:11-12). "They think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation" (1 Peter 4:4).
God's people continue to be peculiar (1 Peter 2:9), salt in an unsavory dish and light in a darkened room. We avoid conformity to the world, instead desiring transformation by the word (Romans 12:1-2).
Possibility of Apostasy
Paul writes of the original exodus that "with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness" (1 Corinthians 10:5). Indeed only Joshua and Caleb survived the entire 40-year journey. Even Moses was permitted only to gaze upon Canaan from afar due to his one act of rebellion. Paul says the wanderers fell because of lust for evil things, idolatry, sexual immorality, tempting Christ and complaining.
Perhaps it is not difficult to see these same temptations to apostasy present among us today. Teaching among God's people is constantly softening in some places in order to accommodate yearning for evil things like lewd dancing, immodest clothing and social drink. The idol of covetousness grows more beloved year by year as God's house goes neglected by carnal Christians. The explosion of errant doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage is a compromise in favor of sexual immorality. God's people tempt him day by day as they continue in such hypocrisy. And all the while, we are heard to complain that the church is just not what it was fifty years ago. Perhaps that has more to do with us than with God?
We are warned along our journey to look "carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:15). We are reminded of Esau who sold his birthright and then wanted it back when the day of accounting came. It was too late. The journey is long and the saints must possess the ability to see beyond instant gratification to the promise of our heavenly country (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Reaching the Land of Promise
The Hebrew writer tells us that there remains a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9). It is "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:4-5).
It was the minority that reached Canaan and it will be the minority that reaches heaven. "Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
Our Canaan is a land of eternal milk and honey and no price should be too great to make our reservations there.
Christ's Jewish audience was composed of slaves of another sort. They were oppressed by the Roman government that had conquered Palestine years before. He told them on one occasion, "If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32).
The freedom he had in mind had nothing to do with the Romans, but everything to do with the devil and sin. It is freedom from slavery to sin and its consequences. The journey to our Canaan begins with blood and water and ends in milk and honey. Along the way, Pharaoh Satan will attempt to lure the pilgrim back, but abiding in Christ's word will lead to the Promised Land.