“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.” ~Exodus 10:21-23
Over the last several days the coming total solar eclipse has had the attention of the nation to the extent where public schools are allowing kids out of school and families are traveling hundreds of miles just to go to a specific location so they can watch the entire event unfold. It’s an event of an extremely rare proportion, which makes it something fascinating to be a part of. Despite the natural excitement for such an occurrence, what it made me think of was a very similar event in Egypt as one of the 10 plagues God poured out upon the Egyptians. The event referenced in Scripture had tremendous application then and it does so now. Here are 3 things the episode in Egypt points to:
(1) YAHWEH is GOD
The 10 plagues in Egypt were an indictment against the Egyptian’s false gods and their trust in those gods. Within the 10 plagues GOD would make a spectacle of Pharaoh’s arrogance and show the entire earth that even the gods of the world’s current superpower were nothing more than glorified pieces of stone and wood (literally). It was not only an operation of shock and awe for the Egyptians and the pagan world, but a display of GOD’s Person to His chosen people of Israel.
Israel was in the land of Egypt for several generations as slaves and non-slaves. They were exposed to the gods of Egypt and the daily worship of those gods. It is likely that the worship of the gods became a normalized part of Israelite life, which would not be a first in the house of Jacob (Gen. 35:2). In fact, the accounts in Exodus assuredly prove this theory. The worship of the Golden Calf (Apis) at Mt. Sinai is not just a happy coincidence where the Israelites just happen to decide one day to worship another deity. This is something that must have been accepted and practiced in their homes previously. Michael A. Stein suggests in The Religion of the Israelites in Egypt that due to the Israelites current position of enslavement and their verbal tradition that spoke of God’s struggle with humanity and sin that the Israelites likely practiced a monolatry rather than monotheism. The Israelites likely believed that Yahweh was inferior to the gods of Egypt. They did not have written documentation or a personal experience of who GOD is/was and what He expected, and this is at the very heart of the Egyptian episode and the 10 commandments – “I Am the LORD your GOD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:2-3).
The Egyptian episode was not simply about God taking vengeance on Egypt and/or glorifying Himself in the world, but more significantly about revealing Himself to His people Israel. It was God’s grace, mercy, and faithfulness in action: a revelation of the truth to His elect. And what is that truth? That GOD is GOD; He is all-powerful; He is the “I AM” (Ex. 3:14) and there is no other (Deut. 4:35, 39).
“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.” ~Deuteronomy 4:32-35
(2) YAHWEH is Intimate
God is not only the transcendent ‘I AM’ of the Universe, but He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3:15); He is an intimately imminent God who has chosen a people to be His own and to give an identity to. This is an immediate contrast to every god who has ever appeared on the landscape of human imagination. The gods that come from the consciousness of humanity (even today) are always to be feared and served, and demand varying forms of religious etiquette to have any chance of earning blessings in this life or the next. They are reckless, arrogant, power-hungry, self-exalting, perverted, selfish, and avaricious. They are the epitome of the human condition; an exalted form of total depravity.
Yahweh, however, is not this way. Time and again Yahweh reveals His primary intent to have relationship with His people and the ends to which He will go to ensure that. He is the very essence of love that draws rebellious humanity into relationship. He calls us and bestows His mercy upon us before we even acknowledge Him. Twenty times in Exodus alone God identifies Israel as My people, and seven times throughout the Pentateuch (4 times in Leviticus alone) He proclaims His intention to be their God.
He ultimately reveals this reality in the Gospel, in which He goes to the ultimate extreme to make a people His own. He not only chose a people, but guaranteed the preservation of that people through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is an incredible truth that the Almighty God of the entire universe desires relationship with flawed humanity and has done this at His own expense. Our God is an intimate God.
“I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” ~Leviticus 26:11-12
(3) YAHWEH is Faithful
Simply put, God keeps His promises. They might be delayed (from our perspective) and come in a timeframe we would not prefer, but there is no doubt that He will keep them. The belief in God as a promise-keeper is the central theme throughout the Scriptures. It is everything – the foundation of true worship and obedience. The declaration of Abraham’s righteousness was bestowed because he truly believed God would do what he said, and that He was able to do it. It wasn’t a mental ascent or subscription to Christian orthodoxy. No, it was pure trust: a belief in God’s word and a belief in His Person despite what he saw with his natural eyes, which happened to ensure to opposite (Rom. 4:18-22).
In Exodus 2:23-25, Moses recounts the reality of God’s faithfulness to His people because of His promises: he simply says, “And God remembered.” The motivation for God’s deliverance of Israel was found in His remembrance of the covenant He made with Abraham, which was a covenant that He initiated and completed Himself, and one that was based completely upon the dependability of His own Person (Gen. 15). In essence, God swears by His own Name that He will do what He said He will do; He swears by His own holiness and perfection, which is absolute. The question is, then, do we believe? If we do believe, truly, we will do what He says and persevere through the ups and downs of life knowing that there is an inheritance waiting for us in glory that far outweighs the trials life throws at us (Rom.8:18; 2 Cor.4:16-18), and one that is greater than the temporary fixes that so often distract us from true joy.
The divinity, intimacy, and faithfulness of God are all fundamentally revealed in the Gospel – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His divinity – His perfection and power – enabled Him to be the only substitute for our sin; the intimacy God the Father seeks with His people and the covenant He made to ensure it compelled Him to send His Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin; the Son’s intimacy with the Father motivated Him to be obedient unto death; and God’s faithfulness to His promises, and the certainty of His own Person, assured the appearance of the Savior who would fulfill the Scriptures and the requirements of the Law in our stead, which enables us to have peace with God and access by faith into the grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:1-2). With such a God as this, a God that eclipses all things, I am not sure how we could not be victorious in all circumstances.
When I think about the beauty and glory of the Gospel I cannot help but be overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for everything God has done for us in Christ. He alone saves, redeems, and satisfies! Let us all place our hope and trust in our God who loves us and keeps His promises to us without reservation.