Answers given by Danny Rurlander, Senior Pastor at Moorlands Church

If the people of Israel are redeemed how are they still slaves to sin?

There is an obvious sense in which they have been redeemed from physical slavery but not spiritual slavery.   Their slavery in Egypt served as a picture of the deeper slavery to sin from which humanity needs redeeming and this physical captivity enables the redemption of the Passover and the Red Sea to serve as a picture of the redemption Christ will finally provide on the cross.  So, as with most things in the OT there is a “promise / fulfilment” pattern at work.  The faithlessness of Israel reveals what must happen for the people to be truly saved – they need delivering from their own sinful hearts: they need the much more powerful redemtpion of the cross and the subsequent regenerating work of the Spirit.

And yet there is a little more to it than this.  Even within that “promise / fullfilment” pattern there is also a “now but not yet” pattern.   Even in Exodus, before the giving of the Spirit, it is possible for redeemed Israel to fulfil their vocation as God’s people.  They are to: “listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God” (15:26).  If they do they will know the fulfilment of God's promises: they would never experience his judgement in the way that Egypt had done so during the plagues. For the LORD is their ‘healer’ – the one who can cure their sin.   The word of God is still the word of God: listen to it and trust it and you will be saved, ignore it and reject it and you will be judged. 

That is why Paul can say:  ‘These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction...’ (1 Corinthians 10.11)   That is, the sinfulness of redeemed Israel serves as a warning to redeemed Christians.   They enjoyed astonishing privileges; they experienced the power of the LORD personally, and yet still doubted his word and failed to listen to his voice (15.26). Their failure makes the follow of Christians doubting God's word even more serious: we enjoy even greater privileges in Christ.  Like them we are redeemed but also sinful and must keep listening to the word of God right to the end in order not to go back to the slavery from which Christ died to redeem us.  Notice Paul’s struggle in Romans 7:

7:21     So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I don’t understand why the Lord responds to Moses with ‘why are you crying out to me?’ in 14:15, after his own statement of faith in 14:14. 

It does seem surprising and this conundrum has been discussed by commentators since before the time of Jesus!  Why, after the Israelites cry out to Moses and Moses rebukes them for their lack of faith, does God then rebuke Moses for crying out to him?  It could be that Moses cried out and his cry is not recorded by the narrator.  But I think a better answer is to remember that Moses represents the people of Israel.   He brings God's word to them and he also mediates their complaints and faithlessness back to God.    (This has been a feature of Exodus right from the start – remember Moses’ career as persecuted and then saved in chapter 2 foreshadows the journey Israel will take?)  This identification between Moses and the Israelites seems to take on greater significance as the book progresses (eg 32:9-14).  Their guilt becomes his.  

It was really helpful to contrast the ideas that: ‘God saves, then we believe’, ‘God saves as we believe’, ‘God saves as we work for God’. But how are the last two true for Israel?  Aren’t these through growth in Christ by the Spirit?

One of the things we have seen very clearly is that salvation is always 100% God's work.  We make no contribution to it at all.  But that does not mean we have no role to play, or that we can be passive.  On the contrary we are to play a role – we are to listen to the word of God, obey it, believe it, trust it, and so on.     As we do those things and persevere in them we look back and realise we can do those things because of God's enabling.  This is true in a sense for the godly Israelite who has God's word but much more so for the Christian who has the fullness of the Spirit.  However the point I was making here was concerning the nature of faith.  Faith is not a “work.”  It’s not having faith that saves us, but faith in the objective work of God.   Whether in the Old Covenant or New faith is looking at what God has done and believing it: 

14:31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Can you explain the bit about the sabbath (rest and work of salvation) again please?

I’m not sure I fully understand the question but I assume it’s about chapter 15 and the comment about creation being order imposed on chaos.   The completion of this work is the “rest” of the seventh day (Gen 2:1-3). When the work of ordering creation is completed God enjoys the sabbath “rest”.  Not that he stops working but that he enjoys the world as he intended it to be.  The sabbath day laws of the OT look back to this and look forward to the potential fulfilment of this rest in Canaan.   

Based on todays sermon do you believe in the perseverance of the saints?

Just for clarity: the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints” is the idea that “once saved always saved” and is a logical corollary of the doctrine of election.   If God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight…. predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5); and if “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39) then it follows that true believers cannot fall away.   

So in a word, if that is what the doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints” teaches, then yes of course I believe it, because that is what the Bible teaches.

However, there is a great deal in both the OT and NT about God's people falling away.  How do we reconcile the two together?   

The answer is that alongside the assurance of election, comes a series of very serious warnings to believers not to fall away.  Instead they must keep on believing, keep on trusting, baring the fruit of changed lives that will demonstrate that they are genuine believers:

Heb. 3:13         But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Heb. 4:1           Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

Matt. 5:13       “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

John 15:5        “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

It is as we hear and take these warnings that God graciously and sovereignly enables us to persevere to the end!

Incidentally this question highlights, for me, the importance and nature of expository Bible teaching, over doctrinal and thematic Bible teaching.    A doctrinal statement like “the perseverance of the saints” is a statement of recognition of some but not all the biblical evidence about God's sovereignty in our salvation.  It is good as far as it goes and has a place in a theological framework or system.  But we must not use that doctrinal framework to make us deaf to what the Bible teaches.  An example of this would be to assert the “once saved always saved” mantra to give us false assurance, and to make us treat sin and backsliding lightly, something the Bible never does.    Instead, as we carefully study the Bible and notice the Bible itself raising tensions with our framework we must allow the Bible to change and correct and modify our framework.  This “spiral” effect means that we are always learning and adjusting our theology in the light of new learning as we study the scriptures. 

What did you mean when you talked about Pharaoh “tracing his ancestry to the Serpent in Genesis 3”?

I meant this metaphorically of course – there is no genealogy of Satan. 

But it’s a little bit more than saying that Pharaoh is “of the devil” in a general sense.  I was trying to pick up a particular strand of biblical imagery which uses Pharaoh as more than just “an evil leader” but uses him as the archetypal anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-creation human, behind whom is Satan himself, the ultimate anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-creation being. 

This theme runs throughout the Bible from beginning to end: from the serpent, to Pharaoh, to the King of Babylon, to the anti-Christ of Revelation, as the examples below demonstrate.   Each generation has it’s Pharaohs – kings of chaos who hate the truth, persecute God's people and try to destroy the work of Christ:

Ex. 15:9  “The enemy boasted,
        ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
        I will divide the spoils;
        I will gorge myself on them.
        I will draw my sword
        and my hand will destroy them.’

Ezek. 32:2  “Son of man, take up a lament concerning Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:
        “ ‘You are like a lion among the nations;
        you are like a monster in the seas
        thrashing about in your streams,
        churning the water with your feet
        and muddying the streams.”

Rev. 12:1-6     A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun,  with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.   She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.   Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.   His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.   She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.   The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Could an Egyptian have repented and become one of God’s people? E.g. In the final plague could an Egyptian have put the blood of a Passover lamb on their door?

The answer to this hypothetical question must be yes and no!  

Yes: because salvation is always by faith in God's word.  The expression of faith in the word of God at that point in time is putting blood on the door frames.   There is a fascinating hint that this could have applied any time during the plagues in Exodus 9:20-21:
Ex. 9:20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.  21 But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field. 

God is always ready to forgive.  He is the “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). 

But no: because salvation is also by God’s choice and it seems to have been God's choice that Egypt as a nation should be punished for their guilt (which has been established as far back as Genesis 15:14).    Because he is also the God of justice:  “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:7)

What if Satan sneaks into heaven and the whole thing starts up again?

One of the brilliant things we see when we read the OT properly (i.e. in a way that points to Jesus as the final fulfilment of it all) is that the cross is “the end of the world” that was promised in the OT. This means that the really big and important things that God needed to do to make sure his new creation could come have BEEN achieved already in the past by the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do not see all the effects of this clearly yet because the old age continues until Jesus’ return, but the resurrection of Jesus tells us that they have happened and the new creation is guaranteed.  One of these things is God's victory over evil and the defeat of Satan. The cross is the moment at which he was defeated finally and fully. He still affects our world, but he is bound, and destined for destruction, as Revelation 20 makes clear. 

It is because Jesus HAS conquered that we can look forward to the guarantee of a new creation, free from evil. 1 Peter 1 puts this wonderfully clearly: 
1 Pet. 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,  5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.


What is going on with Moses’ negotiations with Pharaoh in 8:25-28 etc?

Ex. 8:25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” 26 But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us?  27 We must take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.”

In verse 25 Pharaoh offers a half-hearted concession which we as readers know will be rejected because we already know that the goal of the exodus will not be achieved by remaining in the land which God is ultimately going to destroy. 

But Moses’ reaction in v 26 is a surprise.   We would expect him to say simply: “No, God wants us to leave Egypt”.   But in verse 26 he gives an excuse which sounds like it could have come out of a modern day politically-correct RE syllabus: “we don’t want to offend the religious sensibilities of the Egyptians”!

This is part of a puzzling strand in these narratives in which Moses never seems to tell the entire truth to Pharaoh.   Like many readers I’ve been scratching my head about this.  Let me suggest a way of understanding it which I think makes sense in the wider context, (but for which I would not be prepared to go to the stake!)

Sometimes we need to remember that the Bible – especially OT narrative - has more humour in it than we might give it credit for. This humour is never gratuitous – it’s not there to entertain us - but serves as a tool in the author’s tool box, usually to draw the reader’s attention to the moral or spiritual deficiency of a proud person who is opposed to God's purposes.  The humour or irony signals to the reader that the downfall of the proud is not far off.  See for example Daniel 5:10 for one example.  (Can you think of other examples?)

There has been a strong strand of irony and humour in Exodus from the beginning regarding Pharaoh.  We saw it in chapter 1-2 – even in the context of terror and murder, the way the writer exposed Pharaoh’s ultimate powerlessness, was through irony and humour as everything he did to exterminate the Israelites backfired on him completely. 

And I think these moments when Moses is less than fully honest about the motivation for leaving Egypt are moments of humour which reveal Pharaoh’s weakness and his impending doom.

The dialogue goes like this:


5:1 Let my people go

8:1 Let my people go

8:20 Let my people go

8:27 Let my people go

9:13 Let my people go

10:3 Let my people go


5:2 No way!

8:8 Okay, if you remove the frogs!

8:25 Go and sacrifice but stay here!

8:28 Okay, take the weekend off, but back on Monday!

9:27 Okay, I have sinned, you can go!

10:11 Okay, but men only!


Every time Pharaoh, for all his stubbornness is exposed as actually very weak willed.  He easily capitulates.  After all he can see that he has no ultimate choice.  He can see that Egypt is being ruined. 

And so I think what Moses is doing in 8:28 is giving the most flimsiest of excuses.  “Um, nah we can’t do that Pharaoh, the Egyptians wont like our sacrifices.”  It’s a kind of “dog ate my homework” excuse.   And this exposes Pharaoh as being weak willed.  He easily capitulates, v 28, and then in turn this underlines the perversity of his stubbornness, when we read in v 32 that he hardened his heart again.  We know that his end is not far away.

Why does Pharaoh say “tomorrow” in 8:10 not “right away”?

Ex. 8:8 Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the LORD to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.” 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.” 10 “Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said.  Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the LORD our God.  11 The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.”

This is puzzling because we would assume that he would want rid of the frogs ASAP! 

Once again, we need to remember to read the Bible on its terms rather than ours.   OT narrative rarely gives information about a person’s motivation or psychological state.  It is simply not a huge part of the writer’s field of interest.   (Compared to modern readers and writers who live in a comparatively introspective age where motivation, emotion and psychology are everything).   So we need to be careful with a question like this:  a firm answer is probably not going to be possible, because the writer did not think it was important.    

Here are two possibilities. 

It might point to Pharaoh’s own unbelief.  He simply did not think it would be possible for God to stop a plague immediately.  But that leans close to the danger mentioned above.

A better answer, rather than wondering about Pharaoh’s internal state, is to think about the effect the request has within the narrative.  The effect it has is to draw attention to God's sovereign control.  Pharaoh has the privilege of setting the time for the plague to stop, and that is precisely when it does stop.  So even stopping the plague points to God’s power and presence:

Ex. 8:12 After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the LORD about the frogs he had brought on Pharaoh.  13 And the LORD did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields.  14 They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them. 

What would be wrong with explaining the plagues by means of natural causes, if we also say those natural causes are divinely controlled? 

Modern commentators never seem to get tired of demonstrating in great detail how every one of the first nine plagues could have some kind of naturalistic explanation rather than a miraculous one.  (Although interestingly the tenth plague cannot be so easily explained.)

For example it is a fact, they say, that every now and again the river Nile takes on a red colour due to a certain kind of mud that gets washed down from further up stream.  Or in some parts of the world water has been known to turn bright red due to the presence of certain algae.  At certain times of year you do get a lot of frogs in Egypt.  And it is not unknown in various parts of the world to have dramatic hail storms, locusts, livestock diseases and so on and so on. 

There are two fairly obvious things to say in response to this. 

The first is that, at one level, the fact that an event can be explained as having ‘natural’ causes does not stop it from being a ‘divine’ event as well.  The Bible’s view of the world does not divide things into natural and supernatural.  Rather God is in charge of all things.  He created the laws of nature which says, for example, that hail stones are formed when moist air rises and freezes and ice crystals form and then grow as more moist air freezes around them until they become too heavy to be sustained by upward air currents so they fall to the ground.   When we read, in 9:18, that at a precise time the LORD will “send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt” that is not a statement that God is going to create hail some alternative way and by-pass his own laws of nature.   It is simply saying that the Lord of all creation will use and manage and direct his created order to achieve exactly what he wants.   

Indeed, it is God's total control over nature itself, that matters here, in contrast to the magicians who can only work under nature in a very limited way.  God is using creation forces to create signs and wonders which speak unmistakably of his power and presence.  An explicit example of this comes in 10:13 (see also 14:21):

Ex. 10:13 So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the LORD made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts

Having said that, however, a further and more important point needs to be made.  One of the disciplines we need to learn if we want to be good Bible readers is to look at the text not through it. Seeking to explain everything that may or may not have been happening in terms of cause and effect is an example of trying to look through the text to events that happened a long time ago.  But what we need to do instead is learn to look carefully at the details the author has chosen to show us. When we do that we can see that these events are to be taken as great miracles of God. Whether or not there might be some natural cause involved is of no more interest to the writer than if someone attempted to explain the origin of these words you are reading now in terms of pixels on a computer screen. They are signs, not meteorological phenomena.

Did the midwives lie and was this approved of by the narrator? (1:15-21)

This question touches upon a classical ethical dilemma for Christians: a chainsaw-wielding thug asks you where the little girl he is chasing went.  Are you obligated by the ninth commandment to tell him the truth and trust the rest to God?  Or Christians sheltering Jews from the Nazi’s during the Second World War are asked by the SS officers at the door whether they are hiding Jews.   Does the Bible mandate the truth in this situation? 

Some have tried to avoid the issue in Exodus 1 by claiming that the midwives were only commended for their motives in saving the babies, not the way they went about it.  But I think it is clear from the text that the midwive’s falsehood is actually part of the way they ‘feared God’: they directly lied to Pharaoh and not only did the narrator approve, but God approved.   This is a conundrum given that the Bible commends honesty and truth telling so often, and especially when that behaviour is linked to the character of God (Tit 1:2).

In fact there are quite a number of times in the Bible when someone lies to someone else and the lie is either approved or not condemned.  For example:  Rahab’s deception regarding the spies in Joshua 2 (explicitly commended in James 2:25); Joshua’s ambush of Ai in Joshua 8 (commanded by God); Samuel’s deception of Saul in 1 Samuel 16:1-5; David’s advice to Jonathan, 1 Samuel 20:6; women deceiving Absalom’s men, 2 Samuel 17:19-20; Jeremiah lying to the officials, Jeremiah 38:24-28. 

These examples would suggest that the ninth commandment should not be taken to mean that it is never right to say anything that does not correspond with the truth, nor that it commands truth-telling in an abstract way.  Rather it seems to mandate truth telling in the context of actual relationships, in particular the relationships between a believer and his or her neighbour. 

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  (Exodus 20:16)

The biblical examples above, which seem to justify deception in certain cases, suggest that the ‘neighbour’ against whom we should not bear false witness is not a completely universal category.  

In fact what all those examples seem to have in common is that wicked people are misled in order to protect innocent lives.   This is not a ‘means justifies the ends’ kind of ethics.  Rather it is a proper outworking of the principle of telling the truth which understands it in the context of relationships, and the obligations between people, rather than abstract principles.  

So, as far as I can see, neither Christians hiding Jews from Nazi’s, nor the Hebrew midwives protecting baby boys from Pharaoh had any obligation to treat the genocidal maniacs from whom they were protecting the innocent as ‘neighbours’ to whom they should tell the truth.

If most of the Israelite boys were killed, how were there so many Israelites at that time?  (1:22)

This is a good example of the way biblical narrators are highly selective in what they tell us.  They often do not fill in the factual or historical gaps that might be raised in our minds because those details are not pertinent to the movement of the story that they are telling. In this regard the writer does not tell us any more about what happened after Pharaoh’s decree other than the one special case of Moses. His concern is to move on to Moses and his escape from death, so our questions about all the other Hebrew boys gets left out of the account.

It is clear later, however, that Moses was not the only male Hebrew of his generation to survive, so we can assume that either a. many other babies escaped in various ways or b. the decree was rescinded after some time.  In fact, there is an interesting tradition among ancient Jewish readers that Pharaoh cancelled the order to kill the Hebrew babies once he had been told by the court magicians that Israel’s redeemer (Moses) had been born, (a sort of inverse version of Herod and the Magi in Matthew 2!) This at least tells us that others have pondered the same question in the past.

Why is Moses’ father in law called Reuel in 2:18, but Jethro in 3:1 and 4:18?

Not surprisingly this apparent discrepancy has been explained by scholars positing various different ‘sources’ behind the text that we have now.  

However people having more than one name in the Bible is fairly common, and is clearly not something that troubles the narrator himself as a discrepancy or something that needed explaining or ironing out.  It could be that one is a title or nickname rather than a name, or that one is a Midianite name and one Hebrew name or that the name changed for some reason.   

Whichever is the case the simple fact is that he was known by two names: like Jacob / Israel, Jerub-Baal / Gideon,  and Peter / Simon. 

Why do so many Egyptian lives need to be lost in Exodus? What happens to those lives?

This is something that will be answered more fully as we work through the book. For now it is worth remembering the often overlooked statement that God had made to Abraham way back in Genesis 15, where God forecasts the main events of the Exodus and right into the time of conquest of the land under Joshua

Genesis 15:13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  4 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.  15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age.  16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

This tells us that everything that happens in the book of Exodus happens according to God's plan.  Nothing is accidental or unforeseen, even those four hundred years of slavery. And while there is no hint here that the years of slavery were a punishment for Israel, it is clear that what happens to Egypt is God's just punishment for the way they treated God’s people.   Similarly the treatment of the Amorites (i.e. the Canaanite inhabitants of the promised land at the time of the conquest) will be according to God's perfect justice. Their sin is mainly between themselves and God rather than themselves and God's people, but God is able to use his people’s conquest of the land as his divine judgment upon them.

Notice also that both the Egyptians and the Canaanite peoples were given plenty of time in God’s patience to turn from their sin.  (For the Egyptians this time comes in Exodus 7-12).   And although the judgment is terrible we know it is God’s judgment at work, and therefore it is perfect, for “Will not the Judge of the all earth do right?” (Gen 18:25).

Please could you explain again the word play of ‘I AM’ in Exodus 3? 

The ‘word play’ is the link between the divine name (YHWH, usually pronounced “Yahweh”, or sometimes, incorrectly,  “Jehovah”) and the verb “to be”.   It’s probably best to explain this connection and the way it is indicated in our English translations in several steps, ending with the significance of the revelation of the name of God in the context of Exodus.

1. Throughout Genesis the name of God, translated in English translations as ‘the LORD’ (always in capital letters) has already been used.  This is the personal name of God, rather than a title, such as “El Shaddai” (God Almighty).  However up till Exodus 3 it has not been explained.

2. In Exodus 3:13 Moses asks God his name and God graciously answers in 3:14 by saying:

 “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

It is the second, shorter part of that phrase “I AM” which is taken to be the revelation of the divine name. 

3. The word I am in v 14 is the first person singular imperfect of the Hebrew verb “to be”.  It is a form of this verb which became the four letter word which is used as the divine name in the OT.

4. The route between this four letter word (sometimes known as the ‘tetragrammaton’) and the ‘the LORD’ which appears in our Bibles is complex. (Skip to point 5 if you’re not interested):

a.     In the Hebrew Bible the name is indicated (in Genesis as well as Exodus – i.e. before Exodus 3) by the consonants YHWH.    At this time Hebrew was only written in consonants with the vowels being added by the native Hebrew-speaking reader. 

b.     From the third century BC onwards the Jews avoided pronouncing the name out loud for fear of blasphemy so when they read YHWH in their Bibles they actually said the word ‘adonai’ which means ‘Lord’ or ‘master’ in Hebrew. 

c.      Over time the original pronunciation of YHWH was lost.

d.     As Hebrew speakers spread out from Palestine a system of vowel signs was added to enable non-native Hebrew readers to know how to pronounce the language they read in the Bible. At this time the vowel signs for ‘adonai’ were superimposed upon the YHWH consonants to remind readers not to try and pronounce the divine name.

e.     Christian scholars in the 16th Century then mistakenly put the vowels of ‘adonai’ together with the consonants of YHWH with the resulting name “Jehovah”.  (J not Y simply because of the influence of German scholars). 

f.      The pronunciation of the YHWH as “Yahweh” is a good guess, but that’s all it is.   But it’s a better guess than “Jehovah!”

g.     In most English Bibles YHWH is indicated as ‘the LORD’. 

5. The key point in Exodus 3 is that what had previously been an unexplained name is now explained and its meaning revealed through the redemption of God's people in the Exodus, the Passover, the journey through the Sea etc.  Thus we come to know who God is by what he does.

Several questions about the place of signs and wonders in evangelism today

The book of Exodus provides the foundation for the entire biblical theme of signs and wonders. The miracles God gave to Moses to perform in chapter 4, along with the Exodus itself (including the plagues, the Passover, the crossing of the sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army) are remembered throughout the OT as the pre-eminent examples of ‘signs and wonders’ (E.g. Deut 4:34, Psalm 78:43 etc).    On the basis of such signs and wonders in the past the OT expectation of salvation in the future is that the coming Day of the Lord will be accompanied by signs and wonders again (e.g. Joel 2). 

Many of the signs and wonders in the OT challenge modern notions of miracles in that they do not exclusively involve the Creator suspending the usual laws of creation and doing something ‘supernatural’.   Sometimes they do (e.g. a staff that becomes a snake) but sometimes God employs ‘natural’ causes such as the crossing of the Red Sea in which he uses a ‘strong east wind’ to drive the waters back.    This does not make them any less of a work of God.   The sovereignty of God that the Bible presents does not separate the usual laws of nature from the supernatural suspension of those laws in the way modern people do – instead everything that happens in God's world happens because God wills it to happen (such as sparrows falling to the ground, Matt 10:29).

This cautions us against simply equating the category ‘signs and wonders’ in the Bible with our category of ‘miracles’.   Some miracles may be signs and some miracles may not be signs.  Some signs are not ‘miraculous’ and some are. 

So what are signs in the Bible?  As the name suggests they point to something beyond themselves –namely to God. 

So if signs point us to God, to what about God do they point? What do they signify?  Modern people like ourselves, living after two hundred years of enlightenment skepticism about the miraculous, might assume the purpose of signs is to prove God’s existence.  The idea being ‘if God can heal a sick person, raise a dead person etc.’ then people will be compelled to believe.  But signs in the Bible do not point to God’s existence, which is taken for granted (“only a fool says ‘there is no God’”, Psalm 14:1). 

Rather the signs point to his plans and his purposes.  They are teaching events.   Some teach about his judgment of sinners.  Others teach about his compassion and care and give a glimpse of the future.  The key issue is not only to be amazed at God’s power, but to grasp their significance. 

In the NT the signs of Jesus point to his identity as the Christ (John 20:31) but again it is not through their sheer power that they do so, but through the very particular signs revealing the way Jesus fulfills the OT expectations of the Messiah and the Day of the Lord.  (E.g. the feeding miracles of Jesus can only really be understood against the backdrop of God feeding Israel in the wilderness in Exodus 16).   This is also true of the apostles’ miracles, which explain the nature of the kingdom of God and its fulfillment of OT expectations.

This brings us to the place of signs and wonders today.  In the light of the above we can safely say 5 things:

1. God can do whatever he wants in his world, so signs and wonders and miraculous healings etc. are just as possible for God to do as they were at any other time. 

2. The signs that God did in the past tell us absolutely nothing about what he may do in the present.  That is not their purpose.  The fact that Jesus healed a leper in Luke 5 tells us that he has come to fulfill the promises of God in Isaiah 61:1-2 (cf Luke 4:18-19 and 7:20-23).   It tells us nothing about whether God will choose to heal lepers today. 

3. To understand the true meaning of the signs in the Bible therefore the person who sees them must not put their faith in the sign itself or the power of the sign but in what it signifies. The gospel of John is the best place to see this. John structures his Gospel around seven signs, all of which point cumulatively to Jesus as the Messiah, climaxing in his resurrection.  The right response to the signs is faith in Jesus as the Christ (John 20:31) as the one to whom the signs have pointed.

4. But many see the signs alone and do not put their faith in Jesus as the Christ.  Because of this Jesus himself is very critical of people who seek signs and warned his disciples against false teachers who would perform signs in his name: 

“A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matt 16:4). 

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  (John 2:23-24)

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”  (Matt 7:22-23)

5. Therefore the Christian message is not one that needs signs and wonders to verify it or authenticate it.  We should not seek or expect signs to accompany the proclamation of the gospel, nor are they needed.   Even if there are such signs they are open to confusion and do nothing to elicit true faith in God.  

After all why would we need signs when we have the gospel?  The gospel is a message about the one whose life, death, and resurrection is the ultimate sign and wonder and the one final sign and wonder which fulfills all the others.   And this messages is “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (1 Th. 1:5).

Exodus 4:24-26: Who is Zipporah talking to? God or Moses? What is she talking about? Is her son's blood innocent blood? If not, how does it satisfy God’s wrath? Surely the son is not holy/innocent?

It’s hard to say to whom she is speaking at this point, but nothing about the overall meaning of the passage hangs on it.   The subject of her statement is brought out by the narrator in his comment in v 26: (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.) Her statement is explicitly linked to the circumcision of her son.  The circumcision ‘works’ to turn away God’s wrath and this is referred to as ‘bridegroom of blood’.  The way it ‘works’ is the same as any OT sacrifice in so far as it symbolises and points forward – in its own inadequacy – to the final sacrifice of the Son of God.  (Hebrews 9:11-14).

However it is worth noting that the language of ‘sacrifice’ is not explicit in this passage so we have to careful.  Rather I would point towards the connection between circumcision and the Passover in Exodus 12:43-49. 

So this scene, like its geographical setting (Ex 4:24), is a stopping place or waymarker, on the way to the Passover in which a sinful human is considered right with God through coming under the bloody sign of the covenant.