Cycle 4: Moses and His Nation (Exodus 1 to 1 Samuel 8)

Welcome back to our Bible Overview Series: Through the Bible in Six Sermons.

Six sermons? Did he say only six sermons? But the bible is so big, so complicated! Can ah?

Can! Yes the bible is big and complicated. But it is also highly organized as a story. Actually, six repeating story cycles, each one building on the story that came before, and all of them designed to point us to Jesus.

If you look at your worship guide, on page six you will see a chart that outlines each of the seven steps of the cycle. And you will see that we have already covered Adam’s Cycle, Noah’s Cycle, and Abraham’s Cycle. Today we are going to see how Moses’ story fits in. Next week will be King David. And after that the story of Jesus, the story cycle we are still living in today.

So let’s do a brief review:

In Cycle One, Step One — we can see the “problem”: God created everything, including the earth — but he did not finish everything. He left the earth an untamed wilderness, waiting to be redeemed.

Step Two — God creates a hero to tame the earth, Adam and his wife, Eve, and he creates a little safe space for them: the Garden of Eden.

Step Three — God makes a deal with Adam: you work to expand this safe space until the whole earth becomes a garden. In return, I will live with you and your children forever!

But, Steps Four and Five — Adam screwed up his part of the deal: he listened to the serpent, a creature, instead of God. So God could not complete his part of the deal: he could no longer live with Adam and his children.

And then, Step Six — totally unexpectedly, and completely by grace, God promised that one day, one of Eve’s Sons would crush the serpent and redeem the earth. He would finish the job Adam failed to do. And this promise is actually the purpose statement for the whole bible; the whole rest of the bible was written to show how God kept his promise to send mankind a saviour. So that was good news!

But Step Seven — there are consequences to living apart from God. One of Eve’s sons, Cain, totally rejects God’s promise. His descendants become more and more violent. One of Eve’s other sons, Seth, has faith in God’s promise, and his descendants are blessed with long life, a superior genetic code. But in the end they compromise: they join their superior genetic code to Cain’s corrupt genetic code and create a race of violent supermen who grow so powerful that the very existence of life on earth is threatened.

Which led to: Cycle Two, Step One — God has a problem! The humans he created to tame and redeem the earth are destroying it instead.

So, Step Two — God chooses a hero, Noah, a descendant of Seth, the only faithful man left on earth.

Step Three — God makes a deal with Noah: you build me a safe space — a boat — and in return I will save you and your children from the judgement I am bringing on the earth.

Step Four — Noah keeps his part of the deal, so God keeps his part of the deal.

But it gets better: Step Five — as a final act of faith, Noah sacrifices an animal, a very precious resource.

Which triggers Step Six — in response, God makes an eternal covenant with Noah. He declares that Noah and his children — and the earth itelf — are all safe from judgement by water forever.

Whoa! So is Noah Eve’s promised Son? Is he destined to redeem the earth through his children?

Nope. Step Seven — Noah’s sons end up just like Adam’s. The youngest, Ham, rejects God, and his descendants become the founders of violent, powerful, conquering nations. The oldest, Shem, continues in faith, and God promises that one day his descendants will conquer Ham’s descendants and rule the world. But, in the end, Shem’s descendants compromise: they join Ham’s descendants in building the Tower of Babel, which was their declaration of war against God and against creation.

Which led to Cycle Three, Step One — God has a problem! Mankind is still corrupt, and if he lets them keep growing in strength they will eventually destroy the earth they were meant to redeem. God needs to cure mankind’s corruption; only then can he set them to work redeeming the earth like Adam was supposed to.

So: Step Two — God chooses a hero, Abraham, a descendant of Shem.

Step Three — he makes a deal with Abraham: you leave this corrupt land of Babel, travel to a new land, and build a safe space there: a family. In return, I will cure you you and your children of your corruption, and through one of your uncorrupted sons the earth will be saved from its corruption!

Step Four — Abraham keeps his part of the deal: he circumcizes his family, which was a symbolic way of saying, “My family is a safe space, dedicated to God.” And God keeps his part of the deal: he gives Abraham a son.

But then, Step Five — God asked Abraham to sacrifice that son, Abraham’s most precious resource. Abraham did —

Which triggered Step Six — in response, God saved the boy by providing an alternative sacrifice, and: an eternal covenant with Abraham. He promised three things: 1. Abraham’s kids would become a huge nation. 2. They would eventually have a safe space of their very own, a country of their very own. And 3: eventually one of Abraham’s sons would bless all the nations and redeem the earth. In other words, one of Abraham’s sons would be the promised Son of Eve.

But, Step Seven — we saw that the corruption continued. Just being circumcised wasn’t enough. And so for the rest of the book of Genesis, we saw how every generation of sons had some that rejected God, and other sons who tried to remain faithful. By the end of Genesis, we saw how God has already kept the first part of his promise to Abraham: his descendants are a huge nation. Unfortunately, they are not in a safe space: they are in slavery to Egypt, a nation descended from Ham, Noah’s corrupt son. And Egypt has decided to wipe out the sons of Abraham, thus deleting the possibility that Eve’s Son will be born to save the world.

That is where we ended last cycle, and that is where we begin this cycle:

Cycle number Four, Step One — God has a problem. He made a covenant with Abraham to make Abraham’s children into a great nation, to give them a safe space, and through them, to produce Eve’s Son. He’s kept the first part of the covenant, but if he lets Abraham’s children be destroyed, God turns himself into a liar, a covenant breaker!

God is not going to do that, obviously.

So, Step Two — God chooses a hero, Moses, a descendant of Abraham. He finds this guy working as a shepherd in the desert, and —

Step Three — God makes a deal with him. He says, “Look, Moses, you go, lead my people out of that corrupt land of Egypt, bring them to this mountain, and build a safe space for them here: turn them into a holy nation, dedicated to me. In return, I will come and live with my people, and lead you to the safe space — the safe country — I promised Abraham.” So this is almost exactly a repeat of the deal God made with Abraham; really, it is a continuation, as we will see.

And guess what? Just like Noah, just like Abraham, Moses does his job: he saves his people from God’s judgement. The pattern is the same: in Noah’s cycle, God had to bring the flood judgement on the sons of Cain in order to save the earth from them; at the same time, he brought Noah’s family safely through the floodwaters and saved them. In Abraham’s cycle, God had to bring the judgement of confusion and chaos on Babel — the sons of Ham — in order to save the earth (again!); at the same time, he brought Abraham’s family safely out of that judgement and saved them.

Now, God has to bring judgement on Egypt — still the sons of Ham! — in order to save Abraham’s children. And he does. If you know the story, God brings plague after plague on the Egyptians, wave after wave of judgement, while at the same time he protects the children of Abraham. And then, in the dramatic final act, Moses — just like Noah — led his people safely through the waters of the Final Judgement, the Red Sea, which then swallowed up the Egyptians just as Noah’s flood swallowed up the sons of Cain in Cycle Two.

So: Step Four — Moses obeys. He leads God’s people out of slavery. As they pass through the Red Sea, the waters of judgement, they are officially baptised into Moses. In other words, they become one people. A nation. A holy nation, dedicated to God. There is no going back across the water! They are committed to whatever God has for them.

And the next step should be Step Five: Moses makes a sacrifice. And it is. But Moses’ story is longer and more complicated than Abraham’s, and Abraham’s story was longer and more complicated than Noah’s. That is why, usually, when we are reading through the bible, by the time we get to Moses’ story we have totally lost the plot. It just feels like this mass of bizarre stories and details that make no sense.

So, that’s why I want to slow down here and get us back to the basics, so we don’t get lost.

So, Noah’s story was quite simple: Noah obeyed, led his family out of judgement, made a sacrifice, and God made an eternal covenant with him and all his children. All in four chapters.

Abraham’s story was more complex: he obeyed, led his family out of the judgement at Babel — but then God met him several times, giving him instructions, revealing a little more of his plan, all that sort of thing. And it was only ten chapters later that Abraham made his sacrifice and God responded with his eternal covenant.

Now, Moses’ cycle is even longer, and more complex. But don’t panic! The underlying structure is still the same. Moses has led God’s people out of the judgement on Egypt. They have been baptized into one people dedicated to God, just like Abraham circumcised his sons to make them one family dedicated to God. They have come to Mount Sinai to meet God. But it is not quite time for the sacrifice step. First God has to meet with them just like he met with Abraham, giving them more detailed instructions, revealing more of his plan.

And that is what God does. He shows up in Chapter 19, as we read just now, and he says, starting in verse 4: “Look, you guys have just seen how I smashed the Egyptians and rescued you, I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

“Now, here is the deal I want to make with you people! [5] If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, [6] you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

This is just what God did with Abraham, back in Genesis Chapter 17. He said, “Abraham! If you obey me fully by circumcising your sons, then I will make a covenant with you!” Now God is saying to Moses and his people, “Hey! If you obey me fully and keep my covenant — the one I made with Abraham — then I will continue Abraham’s covenant with you!”

In other words, if Moses’ people keep doing the circumcision thing, God will continue to be their God and take care of them. He will keep his promise to Abraham and lead them to their own country, a safe space for them and their children.

So really, God is not making a new covenant with Moses; he is offering to continue his covenant with Abraham.

And the people all say, “Yeah! That sounds great! Whatever you say, we will obey.”

And what does God say next? The 10 Commandments, the same ones we read together in worship just now.

Now…why did God add the 10 Commandments at this point? Why wasn’t the law of circumcision enough? It was enough for Abraham; why wasn’t it enough for Abraham’s descendants?

Well, to answer that, all we have to do is remember how Abraham’s kids have turned out. Circumcision was not enough. If we were to go back and read Genesis again, from beginning to end, we would come away with one huge impression: these people are messed up! I remember how, when my children were small, we wanted to teach them the bible. So we started at the beginning. Boy, was that a mistake! “Mommy, what do the men of Sodom want to do to those angels? Abba, what did Lot’s daughters do to their father? Mommy, what did Judah do to his son’s wife, and why does he want to set her on fire now?” If you want to teach your kids about perverted sexuality, Genesis is the book to read.

And that is one of the main things Genesis was written to teach: people cannot cure their own corruption. Not even Abraham’s circumcised sons could cure their own corruption! Circumcision was supposed to be an external sign of an internal faith in God. Unfortunately, circumcision quickly became a dead tradition for Abraham’s sons. And that is because circumcision changes the body, but it cannot change the heart. It cannot cure the corruption of mankind. And the five hundred plus years that have passed from Abraham’s time to Moses have proven that: circumcision is not enough.

Lesson learned!

So now God is saying, “Keep on doing that external sign of your internal faith. But, to help you out, I’m going to describe for you what that internal faith looks like when you live it out in everyday life.”

That is the 10 Commandments. That is the Law. God is calling his people into deeper obedience. Circumcision is a good start. It is a way of saying, “We belong to Abraham’s family. We want to be part of Abraham’s covenant.” But don’t stop there! God is telling his people, “I want to see a living faith, not just dead religious rituals.”

So God gives the people the 10 Commandments so they don’t have to guess what internal faith looks like. He spends the next few chapters — from 20 to 23 — unpacking some of the details, what those commandments might look like in specific situations, and then he finishes by saying, “If you keep my covenant by living out your faith like this, then I will keep my promise to Abraham, and lead you out of the wilderness into the safe space I promised.”

And now it is time for Step Five: the Sacrifice. So, in Exodus 24, verse 3, Moses reads the 10 Commandments and other laws to the people, and they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”

Great! Now all they have to do is sign the covenant contract. And how is that done, in a world without paper, without signatures? It is done through sacrifice, through blood.

So, reading now from Exodus 24: [4] Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. [5] Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. [6] Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. [7] Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” [8] Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

And this should trigger Step Six of the cycle: God confirms an eternal covenant with Moses and with all his descendants.

But…here, again, Moses’ cycle is longer and more complicated than Abraham’s and Noah’s.

In Noah’s story, he gets out of the ark, he makes a sacrifice, badabing badaboom: instant eternal covenant, with eternal covenant sign (the rainbow), finish.

In Abraham’s story — a little more complicated — he leaves Babel, he makes several sacrifices, each one bigger than the last; God promises a future eternal covenant, he introduces the eternal covenant sign (circumcision), and then finally we get to that last and greatest sacrifice and: there it is, eternal covenant.

Now, in Moses’ story, the blood sacrifice is made, the blood baptism is performed, the people are now officially God’s covenant people, and Step Six, the Eternal Covenant step, does begin in Chapter 24 —

— but then it goes on for the next seven chapters!

The paperwork for God’s covenant with Noah took only a few verses. The paperwork for God’s covenant with Abraham covers about one whole chapter if you add it all together.

But the paperwork for God’s covenant with Moses takes seven chapters. Why?

Well, if we were to read Exodus Chapters 25 — 31, we would find that most of it is taken up with extremely detailed instructions on how to build a temporary safe space called the Tabernacle. The tabernacle was the tent where God would live while he was travelling with his people to the permanent safe space of the Promised Land.

Now, this is where the book of Exodus gets very confusing for most of us if we have lost the plot. If you are trying to read the Old Testament, and no one has ever taught you about the underlying covenant story structure, this part about the tabernacle makes no sense at all! God spent 17 verses talking about the 10 Commandments, and now he spends chapter after chapter after chapter talking about this boring old tent! Why?

Because, for God, the whole point of making a covenant is so he can live with his people. In fact, this point is so important to him that he spends the rest of the book of Exodus talking about the tabernacle: from Chapter 25 to Chapter 40 — minus two chapters in the middle where the people are worshiping a golden cow. God is far far more excited about the tabernacle than he is about the 10 Commandments.

But let’s be honest: most of us skip those chapters — me included, I’ll confess. We page through it going, “What are these, instructions on camping or something?”

But no! Those chapters of incredibly dense details about the tabernacle was God’s way of saying, “I have seen your sacrifice, I have seen your baptism as a nation. You have kept your part of the covenant. So now I am going to keep mine: I promised to live with you and your children, I promised to lead you to an eternal safe space, so I am going to do that!”

And as God gets to the end of his covenant paperwork with Moses, he does introduce a covenant sign: Exodus 31:12-13, Then the Lord said to Moses, [13] “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.”

So the cycle is repeating. Noah got a covenant sign — the rainbow. Every time God looks at the rainbow, it reminds him of his promise to never wipe out mankind again. Abraham got a covenant sign — circumcision — as an external sign of his internal faith. Every time Abraham looked at his circumcision, it reminded him of God’s promise to turn his descendants into a great nation.

Now Moses also gets a covenant sign: the Sabbath Day of rest. And this, too, is an external sign of an internal faith. Every week when the people rest, they are reminded that God has promised to lead them into an eternal safe space, an eternal rest. The Sabbath Day rest is both a reminder and a fore-taste of what it will be like in the Promised Land.

And finally, in Chapter 34, the covenant paper work is finished, signed, sealed and delivered, beginning in verse 27, Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

And sure enough, God keeps his promise. Over the next five books — Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua — God leads his people into their eternal safe space, their Promised Land. And there they live happily ever after!

Even if you have never read the book of Judges in the Old Testament, you already know what is coming, don’t you?

Step number Seven.

We have seen it happen with Adam’s sons, with Noah’s sons, with Abraham’s sons. Now, it happens with Moses’ sons. Abraham’s children became slaves to the Egyptians, the sons of Ham, and God had to rescue them. In the book of Judges, we see Moses’ children fall into slavery again and again to the nations of Canaan, the sons of Ham. First, they reject God. Then God lets one of the nations of Ham dominate them. They repent! And God sends them a hero, a saviour, a “Judge” to redeem them. And then they reject God again and the cycle repeats, each cycle worse than the last until, in the end, there is a terrible civil war within Israel — brother killing brother.

Sound familiar?

Next time you read the book of Judges, compare it to the book of Genesis, and you’ll notice that all the perverted things in Genesis are repeated in the book of Judges. What is the point? People cannot cure their own corruption. Not even Moses’ circumcised and baptised nation, fully equipped with God’s Law, can cure their own corruption! Circumcision could not change the hearts of Abraham’s sons; the Law cannot change the hearts of Moses’ nation.

And by the end of the book of Judges, and the beginning of 1st Samuel, the nation of Israel thinks they’ve figured out what they’ve been doing wrong. They come to God, like teenagers, and they say, “Hey, Dad, you know why we keep screwing up?”

And God, like every father of teenagers, says, “Yes, I do know. But I am interested in your theory. Go ahead.”

So Israel says, “We keep screwing up because you haven’t given us a king. We know it’s hard to face the truth, Dad, about how you’ve failed to parent us properly, but here’s the thing: we’ve noticed that all these nations that keep conquering us have kings. That’s why they’re so strong. So if you would let us have a king, that would resolve all our problems.”

No. It’s true. You can read about it in 1St Samuel, Chapter 8.

So Moses’ cycle ends exactly where every other cycle has ended: God’s people want to be like everyone else. Adam’s sons were like, “Hey, we know Cain is cursed and everything, but his daughters are total babes. Let’s compromise!” Noah’s sons were like, “Hey, we know Ham is cursed and all that, but he’s building this really cool tower. Let’s help him!” Abraham’s sons were like, “Hey, we know God promised to feed us and everything, but Egypt has food! Let’s go and be slaves!”

Now, Moses’ sons are saying, “Hey, God, having you as our king has been great and all, but everyone else has human kings. We want to be like them!”

So once again, God is faced with a crisis. He made three promises to Abraham’s children: a great nation, a safe space to live in, and Eve’s Son to redeem the world. He has already kept two of those promises — and still the people do not trust him. At the end of Moses’ cycle the people are falling back into slavery to another foreign power, but instead of admitting that they are the problem, they are insisting that God is not ruling them right, and they are demanding a human king.

God told Moses to create a safe space, a holy nation, where God could live with his people. But here, five hundred years after escaping from Egypt, they are on the same rebellious track as every other nation.

God has a problem. He made an unbreakable, eternal covenant to keep rescuing Abraham’s children. But over the last thousand years since Abraham, his children are proving to be just as corrupt as everyone else. So if God keeps rescuing them, they’re just going to keep getting worse and worse, aren’t they?

What is God going to do?

This ends the Fourth Cycle, and sets us up for the fifth.

All right: what does this mean for us? What does God want us to believe and do because of this story?

The application for Noah’s cycle was: we can’t be Noah, but we can join Noah’s family by getting on “the boat” of salvation.

The application for Abraham’s cycle was: we can’t be Abraham, but we can join Abraham’s family by taking on the sign of circumcision — which is baptism for us, in the Sixth Cycle.

It’s the same with Moses: we can’t be Moses, but we can join his people through baptism, and through agreeing that God’s Law is good, including the sign of the Sabbath Rest, that great foretaste of the rest God’s people will enjoy in the Promised Land.

But to be clear, our Moses is not Moses himself. That was the Fourth Cycle; we live in the Sixth Cycle. Noah, Abraham, Moses…these men were just shadows of Eve’s Son. By looking at their lives we get an idea of what Eve’s Son is going to look like, so when he finally shows up in Cycle number Six, we are gonna recognize him. And — spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t figured it out yet — Eve’s Son is Jesus.

So this is our application today, in the Sixth Cycle: we can’t be Jesus. But we can join his people through baptism, through agreeing that God’s Law is good, through joining together like this on our day of Sabbath Rest to celebrate the rest we already enjoy. We are still looking forward to the real, physical Promised Land, the safe space where we will live for all eternity. But we have also already arrived. If you have joined Jesus’ people, then you are already experiencing rest from the corruption that continued to plague the people of Moses. In Jesus, we enjoy a rest from corruption that Moses’ people could not.

For Moses’ people, circumcision and blood baptism made them into a great nation, just as God had promised Abraham — but could not change their hearts. For Moses’ people, the 10 Commandments and the Sabbath Day and the Tabernacle led them into the land, just as God had promised Abraham — but could not keep them from polluting it.

But through Jesus, Eve’s Son, our hearts are circumcised, our hearts are baptised. Through Jesus, God’s Law becomes sweet, the Sabbath Day becomes a day of joy and true rest even when external circumstances sometimes force us to work.

Now, am I saying that Christians no longer struggle with corruption and sin?

No. Jesus’ people still sin. We all know that! But being part of Jesus’ people, being part of the Church, actually helps to limit that corruption. The Spirit of God is here among us, giving us life. Through the Spirit we know and love the Law of God, through the Spirit we speak to one another, gently correcting one another before our sins become too huge, too destructive. That is why living in community with God’s people is so essential to our growth as God’s children: the more we confess our sins to one another, the more our brothers and sisters can call us on our crap, and call us to deeper and deeper repentance, and pronounce God’s forgiveness on us.

So what does God want us to believe because of Moses’ cycle? Believe this: baptism and the Law are essential components to being God’s people — but they are worthless apart from the redeeming work of Eve’s Son, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus alone can save us from our corruption, and from the corruption of this world, and that is good news!

What does God want us to do because of Moses’ cycle? Do this: give up on trying to redeem your own corruption, that will only make it worse. Instead, pay attention to the pattern, and learn how to recognize Eve’s Son: Jesus the Messiah. Once you find him, join his people. And you will be saved from your corruption. That is a promise! — which God will make next week, during Cycle Five: David’s Cycle.

So make sure to come back for that! 

Scroll to top