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Go Forward and Live: Plagues and Crossing the Sea in Exodus 14

September 17, 2023 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ Season 1 Episode 8
Go Forward and Live: Plagues and Crossing the Sea in Exodus 14
Sermons from San Diego
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Sermons from San Diego
Go Forward and Live: Plagues and Crossing the Sea in Exodus 14
Sep 17, 2023 Season 1 Episode 8
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

The story of how Moses and Aaron tried to convince Pharoah to let the people go for a three day festival in the desert

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Show Notes Transcript

The story of how Moses and Aaron tried to convince Pharoah to let the people go for a three day festival in the desert

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California


Rev. Dr. David Bahr


September 17, 2023


“Go Forward and Live”


 Exodus 14:19-31Common English Bible

God’s messenger, who had been in front of Israel’s camp, moved and went behind them. The column of cloud moved from the front and took its place behind them. 20 It stood between Egypt’s camp and Israel’s camp. The cloud remained there, and when darkness fell it lit up the night. They didn’t come near each other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two. 22 The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians chased them and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and cavalry. 24 As morning approached, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian camp from the column of lightning and cloud and threw the Egyptian camp into a panic. 25 The Lord jammed their chariot wheels so that they wouldn’t turn easily. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water comes back and covers the Egyptians, their chariots, and their cavalry.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. At daybreak, the sea returned to its normal depth. The Egyptians were driving toward it, and the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained. 29 The Israelites, however, walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.

30 The Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the amazing power of the Lord against the Egyptians. The people were in awe of the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.


Last week, Moses was living a quiet life as a husband, father, and shepherd.  He spent his days safeguarding sheep and watching big puffy clouds float across the blue sky, perhaps daydreaming about the life of wealth and privilege he had lived as a youth, not wishing for it back but remembering how his death as an infant had been decreed.  He was the child of one of those dangerous outsiders, but was miraculously rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh and raised in the house of one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.  


But one day he saw an Egyptian beating a slave and a righteous anger rose up inside him.  He identified with the suffering of the Hebrew people and in response, killed that Egyptian, which led to a cascade of escapes and events that found him years later living a quiet life as a husband, father, and shepherd.  And one day while minding his own business, he saw a bush burning but not being burned up.  You heard the rest of the story last week.  With great reluctance, Moses accepted responsibility to go back to Egypt and demand that the new Pharaoh let his people go, as long as his brother Aaron could help him.


So, on their first day of work, by the way Moses had just turned 80 and Aaron was 83; on the first day of their new job they ate breakfast, polished the leather on their sandals, and without an appointment, showed up at the palace of the Pharaoh.  Like two tiny field mice, they pulled together the gumption and the moxie to proclaim, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:  “Let my people go so that they can hold a festival for me in the desert.”  


They were smart.  They didn’t ask for the whole big, “let my people go – forever.”  Just, “give my people a three-day weekend.”  But from high on the throne, the deep voice of Pharaoh let out a long sinister laugh and ordered the slave masters to make things worse.  Much worse.  Order them to make the same number of bricks but give them no straw to make them.  On their “downtime,” they had to scour the land gathering straw and when they inevitably began to fall behind, the slave masters drove them harder.  Lazy bums, Pharaoh called them.  Work harder!  Harder!


The people were furious.  They raged against him.  Not him, as in Pharaoh, but Moses.  “Why did you come here?  To make our lives even worse?  You’ve given him a reason to kill us because we can’t possibly keep up.”


In turn, Moses was angry with God.  “Why did you send me here?  I’ve only made things worse.  And youYou have done absolutely nothing to rescue your people.”  God replied, “Watch me!  Now go back to Pharaoh and demand that he let my people go.  Use the party tricks I taught you.  That will impress him.”  


So, they went in front of Pharaoh.  Aaron threw his shepherd’s rod on the ground and it turned into a snake.  Amazing!  But Pharaoh called over his wise men and wizards and they did the same thing.  Wah wah.  Then Aaron’s snake gobbled up the other one, but still, Pharaoh wasn’t impressed.  First day on the job and they failed.


The next day, God told Moses and Aaron to find Pharaoh and tell him that if he doesn’t let the people go for a 3 day festival in the desert, you will turn the water of the Nile River into blood.  And the fish will die and the Nile will stink.  Aaron held his shepherd’s rod over the water and it turned to blood.  Amazing!  But then the Egyptian religious leaders did the same thing.  Wah wah.  And a second time, they failed to impress Pharaoh.


Next, God said, OK, tell Pharaoh that if he doesn’t let my people go for my 3 day weekend, frogs will cover the nation – in the palace, on your beds and even in your ovens and bread pans.  “There will be frogs everywhere crawling up on you and on everyone else in Egypt.”  Pharaoh didn’t seem to care so Aaron raised his rod and voila, thousands of frogs emerged from the Nile and went everywhere and got into everything.  Pharaoh relented.  “If you pray to the Lord to get rid of these frogs, I’ll let the people go for their festival.”  Victory!  Third time’s a charm.  Moses got rid of the frogs, but not by hopping away.  They died right where they were – in the houses and yards and fields.  They were scooped up in big piles and began to stink but at least they were dead.  But now that the crisis was averted, Pharaoh changed his mind.   


Next, as God instructed, Aaron hit the ground with his rod and all of a sudden, Egyptians began feverishly scratching themselves while their animals rubbed up against trees trying to relieve an itch.  They were covered in lice.  But, this time, Pharaoh’s religious experts couldn’t replicate the lice and told Pharaoh, this God has amazing power.  And yet, Pharaoh still wasn’t impressed.


The next morning, Moses and Aaron repeated, “let the people go for three days so they can worship God.  And this time, if you refuse, swarms of insects will descend on you.”  Clearly Pharaoh didn’t like bugs because when he refused and all of a sudden bugs started swarming everywhere, Pharaoh waved his arms wildly and cried out, “Just GO already!  But you have to have your festival here, not out in the desert.”  Moses responded that it was the desert or nothing.  Still swatting bugs, Pharaoh said, “OK, just get rid of them and you can go.”  The insects swarmed away, but as soon as they were gone, Pharaoh changed his mind.  Moses and Aaron were angry and very frustrated.  All these signs and wonders and yet no sign of progress.


So, they repeated to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:  Let my people go so that they can worship me.  If you refuse, tomorrow morning I will send a deadly disease on all Egyptian livestock, but it won’t affect the Israelites.”  Pharaoh laughed, except he wasn’t laughing the next day when animals owned by Egyptians were dead and all the Israelite animals were alive.  And yet, Pharaoh still wouldn’t budge.  


How long would this go on?  How much more suffering was Pharaoh willing to force upon his people just to keep his slaves from a weekend at Burning Man?  Well, let’s see.


God instructed Moses to throw some ash from a furnace in the air in front of Pharaoh.  The ashes turned to soot that covered everything and caused blisters or boils to break out on everyone.  The religious experts were so sore from the boils that they couldn’t even stand up to try to replicate the same thing – I actually thought they had given up a while back, but they were still trying.  But the Lord made Pharaoh stubborn and he still wouldn’t listen.


But wait.  Six plagues in, they were wearing Pharaoh down, getting him closer to finally relenting.  But God made Pharaoh stubborn?  This is one of the great mysteries of these stories.  But first, let’s see what else happens.


Moses and Aaron once again relayed the message – give my people 3 days off.  If not, the greatest hail storm anyone has ever seen will devastate the land.  Some of Pharaoh’s officials heard this and quietly stepped back and raced home to protect their families.  Of course, Pharaoh refused.  Moses raised his hand and lighting began flashing and hail started beating down on everyone and everything so hard that trees were shattering.  Back at the homes of the Israelites, just a nice gentle rain.  Pharaoh looked out at his nation being devastated and declared, “I’m wrong.  You and your God are right.  Go.  You don’t need to stay any longer.”  Pharaoh and Moses breathed long, deep sighs of relief.  And then Pharaoh said, “Psych!  No soup for you.”  


Next, Moses warned, locusts will descend and devour every last piece of vegetation left after the hail.  Pharaoh’s officials began to break ranks.  “How long are you going to trap us in a corner like this?  Egypt is being destroyed!”  Pharaoh listened and realized Moses and Aaron had beaten him.  “OK, go.  You won.”  Finally!  But before rolling out the barrels, he asked, by the way, “Who is going to this festival?”  “Everyone, young and old, and all our animals.”  Pharaoh suspected a ruse and added a condition to their release.  “Your people can go, but you have to leave the animals behind.”  Moses countered that they needed to take all the animals to be available for sacrifice because they won’t know which ones they need until they get there.  Pharaoh accused them of having an evil scheme.  And so now, he said, they can’t take any women or children too.  They argued back and forth until Pharaoh got tired of it and called “security” and had them removed.  


In the morning, as Pharaoh was eating his avocado toast, a locust jumped onto it and he swatted it away.  A little later, just as he went to take a sip of coffee, one landed in his cup.  He spit it out and coffee spilled onto his robes.  As he wiped the liquid away, he saw shadows and looked back up to witness the sky turning black.  Locusts started landing on everything and began eating, the sound absolutely deafening, until nothing green was left anywhere, except where the Israelites lived.


Pharaoh urgently called for Moses and Aaron.  He cried out, “I’ve sinned against the Lord your God and against you.  Please forgive my sin.  Pray to your God to take this deadly disaster away from me.”  Moses left and prayed and God turned the wind and no more locusts.  Finally, victory!  But not really, of course.  The Lord made Pharaoh stubborn.  God, what are you doing?


Just then, darkness like nighttime approached and covered Egypt for three days, except where the Israelites lived.  Pharaoh told Moses, “Get out of here.  I never want to see your face again because the next time you see mine, you will die.”  Moses replied, “You got it.  I never want to see your face again either.”


Now the 10th disaster, God said, tell Pharaoh that at midnight the first born human and animal in every Egyptian household, including Pharaoh’s, will die.  There will be a terrible agony heard throughout the land, like never heard before.  But as for the Israelites, not even a dog will growl.  Israelites were told to prepare a lamb for supper and use its blood to put on the door posts and over the door.  In every Israelite home so marked, God would pass over.


And at the stroke of midnight, from the oldest child of Pharaoh to the oldest child of the prisoners in jail, all were dead.  A terrible agony rang out across Egypt.  Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron that night and granted their request, and with sorrow added, please bring a blessing on me.


No time for a party, the people were urged to hurry and leave as fast as they could, before Pharaoh changed his mind again.  They left so fast, the yeast had not yet caused their bread dough to rise.  On their way out, they asked all the Egyptians to give them their gold and silver.  They were so traumatized by all the death and disasters, they handed everything over.  


As they hurried away, God didn’t lead them out of Egypt by the shortest route.  That would take them through the land of the Philistines and God was afraid they would run back to Egypt if the Philistines tried to attack them.  Not sure why God couldn't have stopped that from happening, but instead, God led them a roundabout way through the Reed Sea desert.  The Lord went in front of them during the day in a column of cloud to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light.  They went as far as the edge of the sea and set up camp.


And then Pharaoh changed his mind.  Of course he did!  “What have we done letting Israel go free of their slavery to us?”  He summoned six hundred elite chariots and all of Egypt’s other chariots and with the whole cavalry and army, chased them to their camp on the sea.  The Israelites could see the dust rising and hear the Egyptians yelling and feel the rumble of chariots and horses beneath their feet.  They were furious and screamed at Moses.  “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the desert?  What have you done to us?  You should have left us alone.”


But Moses replied, “Don’t be afraid.  Stand your ground and watch the Lord rescue you today.”  Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and the Lord pushed the sea back.  The waters were split in two and the Israelites walked through to the other side.  As the Egyptians pursued, their chariot wheels gummed up in the mud and in the morning the waters returned and covered every last Egyptian.  The Lord rescued Israel that day.  


Miriam picked up a tambourine and began singing and invited others to dance:  “Sing to the Lord, for an overflowing victory!  Horse and rider God has thrown into the sea!”  Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron, the one who had asked Pharaoh’s daughter if she would like Miriam to “find” a woman to nurse baby Moses.  She led the singing and dancing all day and all night long.  “Pharaoh’s chariots and army God has hurled into the sea.  Your strong arm, Lord, shatters the enemy.”  


What a story.  I do want to say about the whole “God made Pharaoh stubborn” that I don’t quite get any of the explanations.  And that’s OK.  But all the killing.  It’s one blood bath after another.  And the horses in the sea!  Why?  That wasn’t necessary and I don’t get it.  It’s not OK, but to not understand is OK.  Because to offer an easy answer doesn’t require us to wrestle with such questions as taking sides in war – such as Confederates falling to the ground while Black Union soldiers prevail.  And what about mass suffering intentionally prolonged by leaders like Pharaoh – for ego, or their “enjoyment” of cruelty…   


Here is what I know:  These stories were told by people trying to understand their history, not facts about their history, but their relationship with God.  And if each of us were to tell the history of our relationship with God, people might find some of our conclusions confusing too.  If I were to say, God did this or that for me, you might look at me a side-eyed and say, “really?”  Throughout our lives, God changes and who God is today might even contradict what we had previously believed with such certainty.  God changes with us.


But what doesn’t change is that throughout history, God absolutely loves God’s people.  And who can fully explain love?  Be assured, this story isn’t over.  Stay tuned for there’s more to come for the Israelites.  And hear this once again.  You are God’s beloved too.  And there’s more to come for you too.