This post is Part Two in a series about commonly mistaught or misunderstood Bible passages. Read Part One on reading verses in their context here.
I once taught children’s Sunday school and was given a curriculum to use about the Exodus story. The gist of the lesson was that Pharaoh disobeyed God, so God punished Egypt with plagues. Therefore we should obey God unless we really like frogs. I ignored the curriculum and told my class of thirteen kindergarten boys (I get tired just thinking about it.) the story of God revealing his glory to the world.
Ancient Egypt was the most powerful kingdom in the world at the time. And Pharaoh was the most powerful man on earth. Egypt had the strongest military and the most wealth. They had enslaved whole people groups, like the Hebrews. It seemed no one could defeat or diminish Egypt.
Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, told Pharaoh through Moses to let his people go. Pharaoh would have scoffed that he would let such a large part of his workforce go. Who would make him?
As an answer, God sent a plague, then another plague, then another. The plagues weren’t random. Each plague showed Yahweh’s power over something the Egyptians worshipped or drew their power from. The Nile, both an object of worship and their source of agriculture, was turned to blood. Their cattle died. Locusts ruined their crops. The sun went dark.
Yahweh was shouting to everyone in Egypt, from Pharaoh to the lowliest slave, and everyone who would hear the story passing through on trade routes that He was more powerful than the gods of the strongest kingdom on Earth.
Anytime Pharaoh seemed to want to relent and let God’s people go, God would harden his heart. He was not done yet. He had more false gods to dethrone.
Salvation Through a Lamb
Then God foretold the tenth plague. The firstborn in every household that did not obey God’s command to spread lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their house would die.
Pharaoh lost his son and heard the grief of his people. He relented. He let God’s people go.
But the story did not stop there. Once again, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he regretted what he had done and sent his military to stop them. He had the strongest military in the world chasing down a group of recently freed slaves with elderly people, children and animals slowing down their progress. He had no reason to think that there was any possible outcome other than his military overtaking them and recapturing them.
Except God. Except God had just defeated all of Egypt’s gods. Except God had destroyed his nations crops, and shown his might over and over and over through a stuttering shepherd and his younger brother.
Even so, Pharaoh sent his armies, and God showed the world that he was stronger than the mightiest army in the world.
God is Mighty to Save
Everywhere the Hebrews travelled, kings had heard of what Yahweh had done for his people.
If we make this a story simply about obeying God or else he will destroy you, we miss what the story is teaching about God. Yes, God sent plagues to Egypt in response to Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. But he did it for a reason: to show the world his glory.
He also did it to protect and free his chosen people. He had chosen these people that they may be a blessing to the world by proclaiming his glory. The rest of Exodus is God forming them into a nation. But here, before they had a temple, laws, festivals, rituals, or land, while they are still simply a people and not yet a nation, God is declaring his own glory through them. Because that is why he chose them.
In the middle of showing his glory to the world, God offers salvation through the blood of a lamb. God would continue to use the imagery of blood on wood as a means of salvation until it’s ultimate culmination in Christ’s death on the cross. In short, the story of Exodus shows that God is mighty to save.