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Evil plots against God’s People

July 20, 2015

Exodus 14: 5-18                                            Monday 20th July 2015

Well, we’re into week two of the Exodus.

  • On Wednesday last it was the ‘Burning Bush;
  • On Thursday, God’s name was revealed to Moses – “I am, I am”, and Moses was given tactics by God and how to deal with the negotiations with Pharaoh;
  • On Friday the Pharaoh denied requests for worship: they asked to go out for three days into the wilderness to offer worship and sacrifice to God; the Pharaoh refused and Moses also received in the reading on Friday the instructions for the Passover meal which are so closely linked with our Mass.
  • On Saturday – ironically, we didn’t have a service on Saturday – that was the actual Exodus, that’s when they left Egypt in a tremendous column led by Moses.
  • Sunday…has its own special readings.

Then we come to today…..

Today: preparing to cross the Red Sea. They’re not there yet but they’re preparing. They’ve got the Egyptians coming up behind them; they can see the dust clouds in the distance and are thinking ‘Oh dear, what are we going to do?’

And we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why the change? Why would Pharaoh change his mind?’

Look, the first-born of Egypt have all died. I tend to think that means all the animals et cetera. Well, it does, and they’re the valuable breeding animals; but it’s also the first-born of all the families, including the first-born of the Pharaoh. The entire economy of Egypt has been destroyed, all the farming stock has disappeared, all the breeding cattle gone, et cetera et cetera. Even the succession to Pharaoh’s throne has been disrupted. A terrible blow has been inflicted against Egypt. Even so, Pharaoh says, ‘I’m going to chase ‘em!’

This was a mistake. Is he a slow learner? No, his ‘heart has hardened’. This is the sort of thing angry and stubborn human beings do.

Obviously, without satellites and telephones and all that, the Egyptians would have been wondering where on earth the Israelites, the Jewish People, have gone. It would’ve taken several days, with running messengers going to and fro, to find out where they were in such a vast expanse. But they did get word where they were, and it was a very strange route. So no doubt the Pharaoh thought, ‘Ah! It’s a shambles. We’ll go and finish them off!’ Or bring them back to slavery. And indeed the Jewish People are saying to Moses, ‘We’d rather go back and work for the Egyptians.’ Wow! After they have escaped! Such is faith.

Now, do remember I said Moses had been told he would be given a sign that he was doing God’s work, and that sign would arrive after he’d done it, after he achieved all this? In a strange sort of way we need to live in hope like that, we need to know that there’s a reward at the end. Otherwise Moses might have listened to those people saying ‘Let’s go back to Egypt… into slavery…. at least we got fed!’ (And we’ll hear more of that later.) Such are people, the fickleness of people.

So Pharaoh organises what we would call a ‘task force’ to go and get them. 600 of his best chariots – these are the sort of nuclear weapons of their times. The psalms regularly refer to horses and the power of horses, saying, ‘They will not save you.’ So often get political and military leaders who think they can do everything by sheer force of arms. It’s not true.

But why would Pharaoh want to do this? Revenge? Try to get his own back? Try to recover some self-esteem? There may be something deeper than that…..

The Jewish People are God’s ‘Chosen People’. Remember I was saying Pharaoh had denied the Jews the right to worship their God? And remember, the Jews had been in Egypt for 400 years: they had forgotten about their God. They needed to be led back to God through worship – that’s how you do it, you bring people to church to see how to do it properly. Denying someone the opportunity to worship their God means that they don’t know their god.

That’s the point. They want to separate the Jewish People from their God. We know that the Jewish People have a very special role in God’s plan for this world; they are ‘The Chosen People’, a very holy people in that respect. And throughout history there have been attempts to get rid of the Jews. You can either get rid of them by killing them or by enslaving them and stopping them being Jews.

  • Queen Esther, remember her? She was the Jewish woman who became Queen, married to the King of Persia. And there was a very nasty piece of work called Haman, who basically wanted to eliminate the Jews…. Call it a ‘Final Solution’ if you like. That would disrupt God’s plans. This is evil. By definition it is evil to kill people, but this is stupendously evil – it is trying to subvert God’s plans by removing the Jewish People. Haman came to a sticky end.
  • Then you have persecution of the Jews throughout history.
  • Then you come to the last 100 years, when anti-Semitism really reared its ugly head, and we had the Nazis in charge of one of the biggest economies in the world. They tried to eliminate the Jews. I always think of the German verb ‘to eliminate, ‘vernichten’, to reduce to nothing, that’s what it means. They wanted to eliminate them completely.

A terrible thing. This is evil. Attacking the people of God.

So, faced with the might of the Egyptian Army, the Jewish People led by Moses, is terrified. And they turned to Moses. And Moses said, because he had faith, he had hope, he knew he would get his reward, ‘Have no fear. Stand firm!’

Do not fear, do not be afraid, do not be trouble – there’s a translation problem of course in translating from Hebrew or Greek in to English, and sometimes these phrases get missed. But that phrase, ‘Do not fear’, ‘Don’t worry’ appears over one hundred times in the bible.

And in Matthew 24, verse 13 Jesus says,

‘He who stands firm to the end will be saved.’

That line ‘Stand firm!’ is a significant phrase if you live in a country which is occupied by the Romans. Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians,

‘Put on God’s armour, so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the Devil.’

And I have been talking of the strategies of the Devil just now.

‘Stand firm!’ That is the order that would have been shouted to the Roman soldiers (and no doubt to the Egyptian soldiers). ‘Stand firm!’ Shield in a line and move forward. You need to stand firm otherwise you’ll be routed.

And here is another interesting thing at that point in Jewish history when they are just about to cross the Red Sea. The people were in despair; they didn’t know what to do. Now, I have mentioned previously that that sometimes, at a time of crisis, that is the moment when people turn to God and start praying – only after everything else has been tried and failed! It must be getting bad; they’re starting to pray! That’s a really sad indictment of a ‘lost society’. There is a time to pray, of course. But the point of crossing the Red Sea is an example of when God is saying, ‘This is the time to ACT!’ They do pray to God, and the answer is, ‘DO something! Get ready. Raise up your staff and divide the Red Sea.’ Wow, you need faith to do that, don’t you! But Moses had that faith because, as we’ll hear tomorrow, that’s precisely what he did!

There is a time of preparation today – we’re preparing to cross the Red Sea.

One final remark. That time of preparation is different for all of us. The time when we turn to God, come back to God.

I had a very interesting phone call a week last Sunday from a young man who said he wanted to be confirmed and receive First Holy Communion – he had been baptised as a Catholic, but that was it. He’d been ‘done’! But now he wanted to come back into the Church.

Talking to him I said, ‘Great, you can come and join our group that we run from September through to Easter, and then you come into the Church with the ceremonies at the Easter Vigil. And he said to me, “Can’t you do it a bit quicker?”

I said, “You want it a bit quicker? What’s that about?”

“Well,” he said, “I’m getting married.”

I said, “No, we can’t rush this, because you’re an adult. You need to learn, you need to understand what you are committing yourself to, and then it will be really rewarding. It will change you life.”

“Mmm. I’ll have to talk to my fiancée about that because we’re planning to get married next month.”

“Oh”, I said, “Well if you wanted to be confirmed, you would be confirmed by the bishop, and I want to see the bishop I’d probably have to wait about a month to get to see him. It’s quite difficult, they’re busy.”

And he said, “I understand. It’s OK. I’ll get back to you.”

And I said, “And when you want to get back to me, don’t leave it for over 30 years again…. Because I’ll be 93!”

I thought that was the end of it. But a few days later he phoned me up again:

“We want to do it. I’m going to do it. I want to join the group that’s starting in September through to Easter. And we’ve put the wedding off!”

That’s interesting isn’t it? That’s the Holy Spirit at work.

We do need time to prepare, and to go into things with commitment, faith and hope. So that we understand what we’re doing. And that story is a modern example of what happened to the Israelites when they were about to cross the Red Sea.

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