invitation to holiness and outreach

091814

Exodus 19:1-8

19:1 On the third new moon after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they camped in the desert. There Israel camped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “This is what you will say to the house of Jacob, and tell the sons of Israel: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will really obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, because all the earth is mine; 6 and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you will speak to the sons of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.

invitation to holiness and outreach

This passage serves as the transition text – moving from the getting out of Egypt narratives to the remainder of Exodus. From now on, the focus is on getting Egypt out of the Israelites. In the first section, God moved in response to the outcry of the oppressed Israelites. Now, God sends the invitation. In essence, he says to his children “It’s your move now.”

  1. He invites his people to be holy – dedicated to him. He has made them a nation. Now he invites each person in that nation to be more. He is holy, and he desires for them that same attribute of character.
  2. He invites his people to a mission. Just as he called their father Abraham to be a blessing to the nations around him, now he invites the sons of Abraham to take up that great commission.

The Holy Spirit is given to believers so that we can accept both of these invitations. He will be there in us, so that we can become the sanctified saints that the Father wants us to be. He will also empower us to reach out to others whom God is calling to himself.

HOLY SPIRIT, we welcome you into our lives. Help us to respond to our Father’s invitation to be holy like him, and to reach out to others in his name.

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new structure

091714

Exodus 18:13-27

13 The next day Moses took his seat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, then he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit apart, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people are coming to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a case, they come to me and I decide between one man and his companion, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not right. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too much for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now listen to my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you should warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great case they shall bring to you, but any small case they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” 24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law leave, and he went back to his own country.

new structure

Jethro’s advice showed wisdom because Moses could not have continued to serve as judge over every situation for the people. It was clear that an eldership had already existed (12). But Moses had not taken advantage of the leaders he already had. Jethro pointed out that appointing judges would free him to deal with major cases, and to keep teaching the laws of God. It was wise advice, and it constituted the final break with Egypt, because Moses had apparently been following Egyptian culture in his judgment practices. The new kingdom will require a new structure.

Sharing the load is not easy when it comes to guiding people spiritually. But there is wisdom in allowing the Holy Spirit to work through others. It can get messy, because other leaders will not respond the way you would, and it is so tempting to micromanage everything. But that only leads to frustration and burnout. Fortunately, Moses’ father-in-law saw that potential in his situation, so gave him some godly advice. To Moses’ credit, he followed it, which freed him to focus on the next major ministry the LORD was leading him into – the ministry of proclaiming the new rules for the covenant community.

LORD, give us the wisdom to share the load. Give us faith to trust your Holy Spirit to work through others, as well as ourselves.

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greater than all gods

091614

Exodus 18:1-12

18:1 Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the LORD had rescued Israel from Egypt. 2 Previously, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her for a visit, 3 along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom ( because he said, “I have been a temporary resident in a foreign land”), 4 and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father has been my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). 5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the desert where he was camped at the mountain of God. 6 And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” 7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked how each other were and went into the tent. 8 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the trouble that had come upon them along the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. 9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the LORD had done to Israel, particularly that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. 10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

greater than all gods

What we have just read is the story of the conversion of a Midianite religious leader. He had every reason to question the integrity of his son-in-law, and criticize him for his actions. But Jethro took a good look at the life of Moses, saw all the evidence of God at work in his life and the lives of those he led, and concluded that Moses’ God was greater than all gods. The LORD proved himself not only greater than the gods of Egypt. He proved himself greater than the god whom Jethro had been serving.

So Jethro paid a complement to his son-in-law, and embraced his faith. There was just too much evidence in the Israelite camp for Jethro not to seek a relationship with the LORD.

LORD, may our camp be filled with evidence of your presence, your power and your goodness.

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my war flag

091514

Exodus 17:8-16

8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel succeeded, but whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek succeeded. 12 Then Moses’ hands grew tired, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 So Joshua gained victory over Amalek and his people with the sword. 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it so Joshua can hear it, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD is my war flag, 16 saying, “My hand was on the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

my war flag

In this first battle in a long series of battles with the Amalekites, the Israelites are definitely the underdogs. Those of battle age and not well prepared and miserably unequipped. So, God intervenes again. This time, the staff of Moses becomes a war flag, or signal pole. It serves as a rallying point for the Israelites. As long as the flag was still there, there would be courage and hope.

The problem was that Moses was only one man, and his arms would get tired holding up this symbol of the LORD’s presence. Enter Aaron and Hur, who come alongside Moses, and help him to lead, by helping him display the symbol of the presence of the LORD.

At no point in this story are we told that Moses was praying, or that Aaron and Hur helped him pray. No doubt they did pray, but that is not the point. Moses would not have stopped praying simply because his arms got tired. No, the lifted staff was a symbol of the LORD’s presence, and so it had to remain, because the LORD was teaching all those in battle that he was present, fighting for them.

LORD, thank you for your abiding presence. Thank you for the assurance that you are with us, fighting our battles for us, giving us confidence that no matter how difficult things become, you will prevail.

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strike the rock

091414

Exodus 17:1-7

17:1 All the congregation of the sons of Israel moved on within the Sin desert by stages, according to the LORD’s commandment, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So the people protested against Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses asked them, “Why are you protesting against me? Why are you testing the LORD?” 3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and the people protested against Moses and asked, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, only to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What should I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Get out in front of the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and walk. 6 See, I will stand in front of you there on the rock at Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did it, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the protest of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by asking, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

strike the rock

Moses was in trouble again. The sons of Israel had once again been led to a place of testing, a place with no water in sight. They protested against Moses, and were ready to pick up stones and get political. They had even begun to ask if the LORD was even present among them. That was a stupid question. Didn’t they follow a miraculous cloud/fire thing every day? Didn’t they wake up to fresh manna flakes and milk for every breakfast? Of course God was present. But there’s no calmly explaining reality to a mob. These people are out for blood. Somebody was going to pay for this.

So, what does God instruct Moses to do? Get this; it is important:

  • First, Moses, I want you to go for a walk, out in front of all the people so they can see you. I want them to see what happens, because it will be significant.
  • Take with you a select group of elders. These guys represent the whole community of Israel. By their being there, the people will understand that the action you take will be that of the whole community.
  • Take that staff in your hand too. Remember that staff that you used to strike the Nile River with. You had executed my judgment upon the Nile god by striking the Nile with that staff. Now you are going to execute judgment on someone else by striking an object which represents him.
  • Keep going, and I will lead you to a rock, at the base of the mountain, here in the Sin desert. The mountain will be the big one here at Sin – Sinai, also called Horeb. Now, watch, because I am going to “stand in front of you there on the rock” (6). In other words, the rock now symbolizes my presence among you.
  • OK, strike the rock, and water will flow from it for the people.

I’m not sure that anybody got it at the time. They were probably so delighted to see flowing water again that all they could think about was that miracle. But behind the miracle was a God who was willing to take upon himself the iniquity of his people. Christ was that Rock.[1] He allowed himself to become the substitute for his people’s sin.

LORD, thank you for the Rock, who allowed himself to be struck for us, even while we were rebelling against Him.


[1] 1 Corinthians 10:4.

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two for one Fridays

091314

Exodus 16:22-36

22 On the sixth day they collected double the amount of bread, two omers for one person. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he told them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a sacred rest day, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'” 24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall collect it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.” 27 On the seventh day some of the people did go out to collect, but they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days for this reason. Each of you stay in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day. 31 The house of Israel called its name man.[1] It was white like a coriander seed, and it tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the desert, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of man in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept just as the LORD commanded Moses 35 The people of Israel ate the man forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the man till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 (An omer is one tenth of an ephah.)

two for one Fridays

On the day before the Sabbath, a double portion of the manna appeared. The Israelites collected it and what was left over did not spoil. This was another of the seven miracles associated with God’s provision of manna. It enabled every Israelite to take day off from their regular work. This gift of rest was more than just a rest. It was an opportunity for every Israelite to cease regular activity, and spend time at the feet of their Savior and teacher. It was time for spiritual sustenance. It was time for reflection on the meaning of life, the meaning of their walk through the desert. It was time to dream of the promised land.

The LORD wants to give you and me some time off as well. The Sabbath laws do not apply to non-Israelites, but the Sabbath principle is an important one to learn for all believers. That principle is not a legalistic one. It simply calls us to spend regular time with the LORD, reflecting on our relationship with him, eating from the bread that he has provided for us in his word, and in Christ.

It is also the principle of freedom by grace. We are set free from the task of trying to earn our own salvation through cruel toil for an enemy. The LORD calls us to rest in his provision. He will do the work. We are to simply collect the gift.

LORD, thank you for the gift of grace, enabling us to rest in your completed work, and worship you regularly.


[1] In the Hebrew OT, and in verse 16:14 of the LXX, it is called man, an old pronunciation of mah (=”what”). In the rest of the LXX, and the NT, it is rendered manna (Exod. 16:31, 33, 35; Num. 11:6f, 9; Deut. 8:3, 16; Josh. 5:12; Neh. 9:20; Psa. 78:24; John 6:31, 49; Heb. 9:4; Rev. 2:17).

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Sky flakes

091214

Exodus 16:10-21

10 And while Aaron was speaking to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and see, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 And the LORD told Moses, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the sons of Israel. Tell them, For the next full day[1] you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'” 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and it lay around the camp with the morning dew. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the desert a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” Because they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Collect it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You will each take one omer per person, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'” 17 And the sons of Israel did so. They collected, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever collected much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them collected as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they collected it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

Sky flakes

The “man” from heaven was a strange sight. The Hebrews had seen nothing quite like it. It was a miraculous provision, but the sons of Israel had no category to place it in, to understand how it came to be, and where it fit in their world. They had been hungry, and God had provided a full day’s worth of meat, and this regular whatchamacallit as well.

Think of the seven supernatural acts involved in the provision of these flakes from the sky:

1. They came every morning for 40 years.

2. They did not come on Sabbath mornings.

3. They would evaporate as the sun grew hotter.

4. Anything kept overnight would spoil.

5. A double portion would be available only on Friday mornings.

6. A second portion kept on Friday nights would stay fresh.

7. A single portion would be preserved for generations in the ark of the covenant.[2]

This elaborate multifaceted miracle was designed not just to meet the immediate needs a hungry mob. It was a teaching tool, designed to reinforce a relationship. The LORD wanted his people to regularly acknowledge him, and depend on him. He wanted to be their God, 24/7. He wanted them to come to him every morning and be fed as part of their daily devotions. He wanted them to realize that he is the reason they can rest. He wanted them to know that they have been set free from bondage as part of his covenant with them. The light work of collecting free bread every morning was to replace the heavy cruel bondage of working for their former god, Pharaoh in Egypt.

LORD, the manna has ceased, but the bread from the sky that you have provided for us in Christ still comes to us daily. May we feed often, and learn to trust you for all our needs.


[1] Lit. “Between the evenings”

[2] 16:33.

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hunger games

091114

Exodus 16:1-9

1 They pulled up from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel entered the Sin desert, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “If only[1] we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the LORD told Moses, “See, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people will go out and gather a day’s portion every day, so that I may test them, whether they will walk by my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. Because what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to satisfy you, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him- what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.” 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Approach the face of the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'”

hunger games

Having successfully complained of bad water at Marah, the Israelites decided to keep up that game and complain about their lack of food. The LORD knew that they needed food, but he also wanted to teach them how to put their faith in him daily for meeting their needs. The manna six days a week was a good way of demonstration his watching over them. Moses and Aaron also explained that complaining about their hunger – as if it is their leaders’ fault – was not proper. Just like the waters of Marah, the hunger was a reminder that the walk out of Egypt was to be a walk into a closer relationship with their God.

LORD, may we always seek for answers to our needs in you, because you care for us, and want us to seek you.


[1] Lit. “Who would give” (us this) – an idiom that expects a negative reply. It was a Hebrew way of saying with contempt that no one can help. This question is contrasted with that in verse 7.

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bitter water test

091014

Exodus 15:22-27

22 Then Moses pulled up Israel from the Red Sea, and they went into the Shur desert. They went three days in the wilderness and could not find water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 And the people complained about Moses, saying, “What will we drink?” 25 And he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, 26 saying, “If you will carefully listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the maladies on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” 27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they set up camp there by the water.

bitter water test

When Penny and I go hiking on the Appalachian Trail, we always pack four liters of water, a water filter and purification tablets with us. We also plan each hike so that we pass by or camp near a water source each day. That water source is crucial, because without it, we could not go very far along the trail. If we run out of water, we have to turn back, no matter how beautiful the view.

The bitter water test was an opportunity for the Israelites to demonstrate their faith in and dependence upon the LORD. When the water at Marah turned out to be marah (bitter), the Israelites complained about Moses. As God’s chosen leader, he would get an ear full. But Moses did the right thing; he asked God for help.

The solution came in the form of a tree. It was not just a log, or a piece of wood. It was the very same word that Moses had used for the tree of life. It would have been the same word used for the cross. The point is that it was God’s solution to his people’s need. Obedience to God meant applying the tree to the problem.

Some people see this passage as some kind of legal guarantee from God that if we believe and obey him we will never get sick. Not so, even for the Israelites then. The LORD was telling them to trust him to be their doctor, and that if and when they encountered troubles (as they did at Marah) he would be there for them. What the LORD did promise was that if they faithfully obeyed him, he would not condemn them to the kind of judgments that the Egyptians had experienced because of their disobedience. Our days are wilderness journeys, and we should expect to be tested by hardship and illness and pain. Those tests are opportunities for us to seek the help of the one who promised to heal us.

LORD, we seek you help today. We know you are there, and our present hardships are not signs of your abandonment. Come to our bitter water today, and make it sweet.

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victory songs

090914

Exodus 15:1-20

15:1 At that time, Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for victoriously he has achieved victory; the horse and his rider he has shot into the sea. 2 The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name. 4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he shot into the sea, and his elite officers were sunk in the Red Sea. 5 The depths covered them; they went down into the deep sea like a stone. 6 Your right hand, LORD, made glorious by power, your right hand, LORD, smashes the enemy. 7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your burning anger; it consumes them like stubble. 8 At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the depths solidified in the heart of the sea. 9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall be satisfied over them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’ 10 You puffed your breath; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the grand waters. 11 “Who is like you, LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, great in holiness, awesome in praiseworthy deeds, doing miracles? 12 You stretched out your right hand; the land swallowed them. 13 “You have led by your grace this people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy dwelling. 14 The peoples have heard; they shudder; anguish has taken hold of the those who dwell in Philistia. 15 At that time the chiefs of Edom became disturbed; trembling has taken hold of the leaders of Moab; all who live in Canaan have melted. 16 Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have bought. 17 You will bring them in and place them on your own mountain, the place, LORD, which you have made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, which your hands have set up. 18 The LORD will reign forever and ever.” 19 For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. 20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out behind her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has achieved victory; the horse and his rider he has shot into the sea.”

victory songs

Moses and Miriam led the people of Israel in victory songs that day. Their fear had turned to praise, and their prayers for salvation had turned to worship. The people did not need the songs to recognize that they were still alive. They needed the victory songs to remind them that it was the LORD who had fought for them. So, today, we who have the faith of Moses and Miriam regularly gather in the LORD’s name and sing songs of praise, worshipping him. We need to regularly remind ourselves that we have a man of war fighting for us, defeating our enemies. We need to rejoice over every win, and anticipate the utter defeat of all sin and Satan at the final judgment. Our faith is in a God who finishes off the enemy.

LORD, we rejoice over you, because you have won the day. You have achieved victory over what we were afraid of. To you we sing victory songs.

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