These Bible readings are written by the Rev Professor A.T.B. McGowan, Chairman of the Trustees of Rutherford House and Minister of Inverness East Church.
Sunday 1st March
The book of Exodus tells the story of how God liberated his people from Egypt and led them to the land which he had promised Abraham would be theirs. In order to understand the book of Exodus, we must remember where the story finished at the end of Genesis. Jacob and his family have moved to Egypt, where Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, had become a powerful figure in the land. Joseph saved the Egyptians from starvation during a seven year famine, by building up stocks of food during the previous seven years, when there was plenty. Now we pick up the story in Exodus 1. This chapter tells how the Hebrew people came to be perceived by the Egyptians as a threat and introduces us to Moses, the man who was to lead them out of Egypt.
Monday 2nd March
In Genesis, the people of God consisted of the extended family of Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Here in Exodus we have an account of its development into a great nation. The book begins with the names of Jacob’s twelve sons, called the ‘patriarchs’, who were the foundation of the twelve tribes of Israel. We are told that the number of people descended from these twelve grew and grew. This wonderful increase in their numbers was clearly the fulfilment of God’s promise. There are literally dozens of places where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were told that they would become a ‘great nation’. It was while in Egypt that the story of one family becomes the story of a nation. If the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12 is the beginning of the story of the people of God, then Exodus 1 is the beginning of the story of Israel as a nation.
Tuesday 3rd March
God, in his sovereign providence took Joseph to Egypt and then, because of the famine, took the entire family to join him there. They were given good land and a prominent position, because of the high regard in which Joseph was held. As our passage opens, however, all that has been forgotten. Verse 8 takes us to the heart of the problem: ‘Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.’ The new king was very worried about the Hebrew people, thinking that in a war, they might turn against the Egyptians and fight for their enemies. The result of this fear was that the Hebrews were oppressed and enslaved. The new king did not realise that the Hebrews were the chosen people of the living God and that he was storing up trouble for himself and for Egypt.
Wednesday 4th March
The Egyptians decided that there were too many Israelites and decided to murder all newly-born Hebrew boys. The most barbarous part of this decision was that the midwives were to be the murderers! But these midwives feared God more than the king and so the Israelites were spared. God rewarded them for this by blessing their own homes and families just as he will always bless us when we put him before anything else. The Midwives were right in disobeying the king. In one sense, what they did was wrong: they disobeyed the king and they lied to him but in God’s eyes they did what was right. It is always the case that what God requires of us must take priority over everything else. It also means that when any king or government requires of us anything that is evil, we must be prepared to disobey.
Thursday 5th March
We read the chapter again today to remind ourselves of a most important lesson to be learned from the story. No matter how insignificant we might be in the world’s eyes, no matter how marginal the church has become in modern society, we are the people of God and the Lord has not forgotten us. The story of Exodus reminds us that God had made promises to Abraham and God kept those promises. God had entered into a covenant with Abraham and God kept that covenant. What we shall see as we go through the book of Exodus is the way in which God fulfilled those promises. We must continue to worship, to pray, to study the Scriptures, to serve the community, to evangelise and to do everything the Lord calls us to do. God has not forgotten us and God will bless his gospel.
Friday 6th March
This passage describes a miracle of God’s providence. When Moses was born, his mother hid him for three months, so that he would not be killed. Later, she put him in a papyrus basket, coated it with tar and pitch and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Imagine how that mother must have felt, having to abandon her baby to the river. Then the miracle happens! Pharaoh’s daughter finds the basket and rescues the baby. Clearly Pharaoh’s daughter was of a different stamp than her father. It was at this point that Moses’ sister stepped into the story, offering to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the child on behalf of Pharaoh’s daughter. Can you see the hand of God in all of this? Instead of being killed, Moses is rescued and he finds himself being brought up and nursed by his own mother! More than that, she was paid for the privilege of nursing her own child! God had plans for this baby.
Saturday 7th March
We focus on just one verse today, verse 10: ‘When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”’ It is a lesson of Biblical history that God prepares people for the work to which he has called them. Where better to educate the man who was to be God’s ambassador to Pharaoh than in the very house of Pharaoh? In this story we see the outworking of the sovereign purposes of God. The overruling hand of God was guiding the circumstances of Moses’ life. He was saved for a purpose. Perhaps the main lesson of this passage for us this evening is to recognise that the sovereign providence of God which we see here in the life of Moses, is also at work in our own lives. We must be sensitive to what God is doing in our lives and we must seek God’s will for our lives.
Sunday 8th March
The life of Moses was divided, more or less equally, into three periods, each of 40 years. The first 40 years were spent in Pharaoh’s palace. The second 40 years were in Midian as a shepherd and the third 40 years were spent in the wilderness leading the people of Israel. After God placed Moses in the palace of Pharaoh, we hear nothing more about him until he is forty years old. Today’s passage describes the beginning of the second period in his life. That is to say, it tells how Moses moved from the life of a prince to the life of a shepherd. In this passage we learn how he murdered an Egyptian in order to assist an Israelite and then had to flee for his life because his action became common knowledge. Although God had chosen Moses, there was much for Moses to learn and he would go through many trials and difficulties in his life, as did Joseph before him. God’s call does not mean an easy life.
Monday 9th March
In Acts 7: 23-29, we are given a little more detail of this incident in the life of Moses. We learn three things here. First, despite his upbringing, there was no doubt in the mind of Moses that he was an Israelite, and so he was concerned for his fellow Israelites. Here is a man who knew his roots and was not ashamed of them. The second point to note is that when Moses murdered the Egyptian he thought his people would recognise that God ‘was using him’ (v.25). Even at this early stage of his life, Moses had some notion that God might use him for the good of the Israelites. The third point to note is that when Moses sought to help an Israelite by murdering an Egyptian he was clearly out of step with God. It is no coincidence that 40 years passed after this murder before God used Moses again. He had to learn that God’s work must be done in God’s way. So Moses had to spend forty years in Midian as a shepherd.
Tuesday 10th March
These verses tell us that the king of Egypt died, that the Israelites cried out to God in their suffering, that he heard them, and that he was concerned about them. Perhaps the lesson we have to learn from all of this is that God can overrule in any political situation for his own ends and to achieve his own purpose. For example, for many years the church in Czechoslovakia was not free in the way that we enjoy freedom. At that time, you could not give out Christian tracts freely in Hungary, or preach the Gospel at a street corner in Moscow. Politics can affect the church. As regimes change, however, the situation of the church can change too. Now in those countries there is much more freedom to worship and serve the Lord. Whatever kings and governments say and do, God is still at work.
Wednesday 11th March
There is another lesson to learn from these verses and it is the need for prayer. In their slavery the Israelites groaned and cried out to God. This is fundamental to a proper understanding of the passage. Prayer is the most vital tool that the believer has because the one to whom we pray is the sovereign of the whole universe and he has the power to do anything. When the people of Israel cried out to God they did so believing that he was able to answer their prayers. Hywel Jones, writing in the New Bible Commentary Revised, put it like this, ‘The clear teaching of this brief but important passage is that God hears his people’s cry and sees their need in tender compassion, but not as a helpless, saddened spectator. He is one who in sovereign love and power acts on the need he sees and the cry he hears, because he has taken a covenant oath upon himself in respect of these people.’ Prayer changes things!
Thursday 12th March
In these verses, we have the dramatic story of how God revealed himself to Moses. Moses is on the mountain range of Horeb, at the mountain called Sinai, when God meets with him. Moses sees a remarkable sight, a burning bush which is not burned up. In this way the living God makes himself known to Moses. The Church of Scotland has as its symbol the burning bush and the words (in Latin) Nec Tamen Consumebatur, which means ‘nevertheless, it was not consumed’. Fire is often used in Scripture as a sign of purity or cleansing and is a very appropriate way to symbolise the fact that God is Holy. So Moses is told that the place he is standing is holy ground. Our God is a holy God and we must come before him with reverence and awe.
Friday 13th March
Having made himself known to Moses, God then tells him what he is going to do. We might say that this is God’s plan of redemption. God is about to take action. Notice all the verbs God uses here: ‘I have seen… I have heard… I am concerned… I have come down… I am sending you… This is a marvellous description of the sovereignty of God in gracious action. God works in a mysterious way and his choice of servants may often strike us as unusual. Matthew Henry wrote: ‘The same hand that now fetched a shepherd out of the desert, to be the planter of a Jewish church, afterwards fetched fishermen from their ships, to be the planters of the Christian church.’
Saturday 14th March
Moses is not happy to go to Pharaoh on God’s behalf and he tries to object. He did not believe that he was up to the job. He felt himself to be unsuitable for this type of work. God replies by promising his presence. Moses had learned meekness and humility in Midian but now he needed faith. So he presses God and asks for his name. God gives two names. The first describes what God is like in himself. He is ‘I am who I am’. In other words, God is self-existent and has no dependence upon any other. The second name describes God’s relation to his people: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ Moses learns that the God who is about to deliver the Hebrews from Egypt and lead them to the promised land is the God who promised to do so by making a covenant with Abraham and renewing it to his son and grandson.
Sunday 15th March
God here tells Moses what to do and promises him both success and failure. Moses is to go first to the elders of Israel. This would be successful. Moses was assured (verse 18) that, ‘The elders of Israel will listen to you.’ Then he was to go to Pharaoh with this message: ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ This would be unsuccessful. God tells Moses that Pharaoh would not listen. As we read in verse 19: ‘But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.’ Eventually, the plagues would compel Pharaoh to listen but, until then, Moses’ words would fall on deaf ears. God calls us to speak for him today, sharing the message of the Gospel. Like Moses we can expect both success and failure. The important point for us, as with Moses, is to do what God says.
Monday 16th March
In this chapter Moses makes various excuses as to why he ought not to do what God was commanding him to do. In the first nine verses, Moses objects that he lacked authority. He did not believe that the people would listen to him. In response, God then empowers him to work miracles, two of which were demonstrated. First, the rod is made into a snake; second, Moses’ hand becomes leprous; and third, he is to turn a river into blood. These miracles were intended to confirm the truth of what Moses said. In various parts of Scripture, miracles were granted by God as proof that the person had been sent by God. The miracles of Jesus and his apostles had the same purpose.
Tuesday 17th March
Moses next excuse is that he lacks eloquence. Is there some cowardice here as well as modesty? This objection is over-ruled because we don’t need to be eloquent to serve God. We see this in various places in Scripture. For example, read Jeremiah 1:6-9, Acts 4:13 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. In this last passage, Paul makes it clear that he was not eloquent. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest that eloquence could be a serious disadvantage. Paul did not want people to believe because he was clever and eloquent but because the Holy Spirit had convinced them of the truth. Moses had to learn that God would give him the words to say, as and when needed.
Wednesday 18th March
His first two objections having been dealt with, Moses says, ‘Please send someone else.’ Moses simply did not feel that he was up to the task. He felt inadequate and believed that others were much better qualified to be the people’s spokesman before Pharaoh. At this point, God becomes very angry with Moses. You see, when God calls us we must not resist him! We read in verse 14 that, ‘the LORD’s anger burned against Moses’. Even in his anger, however, God was gracious towards Moses. He agrees to send Aaron with Moses, knowing that Aaron was more eloquent. God then says, ‘I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.’ God having dealt with Moses’ three objections, Moses finally accepts God’s call.
Thursday 19th March
Now we see Moses setting out on his journey. Having obtained the permission of his father-in-law, Moses makes his preparations to return to Egypt. As he begins his journey, God directs him and encourages him in various ways. God tells him his former enemies were dead. He also tells him of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart, lest he should be surprised. Moses is told to deliver God’s message in God’s name. He was to demonstrate God’s relation to his people, and he was to demand their release. Then we come across this curious incident on the journey (vv. 24-26) when we’re told that God was about to kill Moses. Moses had come under the anger and judgement of God for failing to circumcise his son. A leader of God’s people must be especially careful to do God’s will.
Friday 20th March
Moses meets up with his brother Aaron whom God had sent to him. Together these men were to be God’s ambassadors to Pharaoh. Moses and Aaron then met with the elders of Israel to explain to them what God had said and what God was going to do. We are told that the Elders believed and were overjoyed. They had waited for this moment for a long time. They had never given up hope that God would save them from their misery. The last words of the chapter are these: ‘And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.’ These elders of Israel, when they were told that God was concerned about them, could not help but worship, it was the natural reaction. God is concerned about us, in the midst of these difficult days and we too must respond by worshipping him.
Saturday 21st March
Over the next few weeks we shall be reading the stories of Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, including the various plagues, leading up to the Exodus from Egypt. Today we have read the story of the very first encounter between Moses and Pharaoh and it sets the scene for what follows. Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh to deliver God’s message. They tell Pharaoh that the God of Israel has something to say to him. This is most interesting because it is the first time that the expression the ‘God of Israel’ appears in the Bible. Up until now he has been known as the ‘God of your Fathers,’ or the ‘God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ but now he is the God of a nation newly born in captivity in Egypt. He has identified himself (as he promised he would) with the fledgling nation of the Hebrews. It is in the name of God that Moses and Aaron deliver their message. ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says “Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.”’ This will be the pattern of all the pronouncements of the prophets from here on through Scripture: Thus says the Lord!
Sunday 22nd March
Pharaoh’s response is both predictable and inevitable: ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.’ Matthew Henry, in commenting upon these words, said this, ‘Ignorance and contempt of God are at the bottom of all the wickedness that is in the world.’ Pharaoh said he did not know God and therefore he would not obey God. Romans 1 tells us, however, that everyone has knowledge of God, only some suppress the knowledge. They do not want to believe, they decide not to believe, and ultimately they persuade themselves that there is nothing there in which to believe. But as that passage in Romans 1 makes clear, no-one will be able to stand before God and say ‘I did not know there was a God’ because their conscience will testify against them. By declaring himself to be independent of God, and by refusing to submit to his authority, Pharaoh was simply underlining the fact that he was a fallen man.
Monday 23rd March
We read these verses one more time, to see the results of the encounter with Pharaoh. Moses and Aaron pleaded with Pharaoh to allow the people of Israel to take a three day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to God. All of this cut no ice with Pharaoh. Indeed, he said that Moses and Aaron were guilty of keeping the people from their work. The decision of Pharaoh was first, to refuse the request; second, to accuse the people of Israel of laziness; and third, to insist that from then on they would continue to work as before but must also gather their own raw materials. The people of Israel were employed, among other things, in making bricks for the great building projects of the Egyptians. Up until this point, they had been given the straw and had to reach a certain quota of bricks each day. Now they had to reach the same quota but instead of being given the straw they had to go and gather it for themselves! And so the result of the visit of Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh was that their situation was not made better but worse!
Tuesday 24th March
Moses here questions God and asks why God has brought trouble upon the people. He goes so far as to say, in verses 22-23, that God hasn’t kept his promise. The response from God is that he is the Lord God, he has made a covenant with the people of Israel and he will keep it (1-5). He then orders Moses to go back and reassure the Israelites that God will deliver them (6-8). The part of this which is most important and which explains God’s action and his persistence is the part about covenant. Throughout the whole Bible, the Israelites are regarded as God’s covenant people. Having entered into a covenant with Abraham, God remained faithful to his people, despite their sin and disobedience. Christians today as God’s covenant people. He has bound himself to us and he will not let us go.
Wednesday 25th March
In verse 9, Moses goes back to the Israelites with God’s message but they would not listen. Then God tells Moses and Aaron to go back to Pharaoh again with the same request (10-12). The last part of the passage is the genealogy of Moses and Aaron (13-27). The fact which stands out most clearly is that Moses and Aaron were facing serious challenges in being able to do what God commanded. Pharaoh wasn’t listening and the Israelites themselves refused to listen because, in their eyes, Moses had simply made things worse for them by antagonising Pharaoh. What we learn from this is that, even when we obey God, life can be very difficult. In the Church we can face huge difficulties in doing what God has commanded but that is not a reason for giving up.
Thursday 26th March
Exodus 6:28 – 7:6
In our passage, God gives Moses and Aaron their final instructions before their second visit to Pharaoh. God tells them what part each one has to play. Moses is to be like God to Pharaoh and Aaron is to be like a prophet. In other words, Moses is to speak the message to Pharaoh by means of his brother. Moses will tell Aaron what to say. This, you remember was because Moses said that he wasn’t a good speaker. God also tells them that he is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not listen to the message. God also says that, after some mighty acts of judgement, he will take the people of Israel out of Egypt. Notice especially verse 6: ‘Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them.’ The ways of God may sometimes be difficult to understand but our attitude must always be one of obedient submission to his will.
Friday 27th March
Moses and Aaron did what God commanded, despite their age (80 and 83). In order to persuade Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go, Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake but the wise men and sorcerers of Egypt are able to do the same thing and Pharaoh refuses to let the people go. The problem was that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We see this in verses 3-4, 13 and 22. Paul speaks of this in Romans 9:17-18: ‘For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.’ Paul uses Pharaoh as an example of God’s sovereignty. He says that God, in his sovereign power, can either have mercy upon us or can harden our hearts. It is a dangerous thing to set ourselves against the command of the living God.
Saturday 28th March
Then we come to the second miracle. Aaron strikes the water of the Nile with his staff and it became blood but, ‘the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts’ (verse 22). Once again Pharaoh refused to let the people go. This continues yesterday’s theme of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In Pharaoh’s case the text sometimes says that God hardened his heart, but it also says sometimes that he hardened his own heart, and that gives us a clue: Notice Exodus 8:15: ‘But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.’ Then look at Exodus 8:32: ‘But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.’ In both instances, at the height of the plague, Pharaoh agrees to let the people go. Then, when the immediate trouble had passed, Pharaoh hardened his heart and changed his mind. It is clear that, when we harden our hearts against God, he can harden us, such that there is no turning back.
Sunday 29th March
This story of the plague of frogs takes place one week after the Lord turned the Nile to blood. We see in this story a pattern which will be repeated throughout the story of the plagues. Pharaoh refuses Moses’ request. The plague of frogs is sent. Pharaoh’s magicians duplicate the plague. Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron to tell them that he has changed his mind. Moses sets a time for the removal of the frogs as proof of God’s power (verse 10). Moses prays to God (verse 12). God answer the prayer (vv.13-14). Pharaoh hardens his heart and does not do what he had promised. This pattern of recurrent disobedience is one that we will see in Pharaoh right through until the final plague. He never finally comes to the place of obedience to God, despite being given many opportunities. We must, of course, make application of this to ourselves. Is it not the case that this pattern of recurrent disobedience in one that we can recognise in our own lives? How do we respond when God disciplines us for our sins? Do we repent and seek forgiveness, or do we become even more intransigent?
Monday 30th March
The plagues continue but there is a significant difference. On this occasion, as we read in verses 18-19, ‘when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. And the gnats were on men and animals. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”’ Even the servants of Pharaoh could now see that God was at work but it made no difference. Pharaoh continued to harden his heart. People will often say that if only they could see a miracle, then they would believe in God. The evidence of Pharaoh is that even in the face of many miracles, the human heart can remain hard. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, the rich man finds himself in Hell and urges Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers. Abraham replies, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
Tuesday 31st March
There is a second difference we see in these plagues, which is that God distinguished his own people from the Egyptians. As we read in Exodus 8:22-23: ‘on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people.’ In verses 4 and 6 of chapter 9, we see the same thing. When God brought a plague on the livestock, he made a distinction between the livestock of the Egyptians and the livestock of the Israelites. This great distinction between the animals belonging to his own people and the animals belonging to their captors, continues a theme which will reach its climax in the last plague, when God passed over Egypt and brought death to every Egyptian home but no Israelite home was touched. They sheltered under the blood of the lamb. We too shelter under the blood of the lamb (Christ) and there will be a great distinction on that last day.