The Journey: Leaving Egypt

October 8, 2017
Exodus 33:1-6
Chuck DeGroat


a.       Big weekend of football. Sports / movies give us a sense of adventure.

           i.      Big realization for me 20 years ago – the biblical Story is an adventure story, too…one we participate in.  

         ii.      I was studying Bible from a distance…analyzing it.

         iii.      He said, “No it’s actually like your story…winding and messy…you participate in it.” He said:

The Exodus tells our story. Each of us has a personal journey to make, from our own Egypt to our Promised Land. We have left something behind in order to make this journey. We have had to break free from our former lives in order to begin afresh. We were in Egypt. We were delivered from bondage. We are in the wilderness, on our way to the promised  land. The story of the Exodus involves us—because it is about us.1

b.      Boom. That simple paragraph changed my relationship to Scripture.

c.       Exodus story came alive.

         i.      We all need to leave Egypt – a place of enslavement. Where we get stuck in so many different ways. A narrow place. A place we can’t thrive.

         ii.      We’ve got to journey to Sinai….where God puts us back together.

1.        I will be your God and you will be my people. NEW RELATIONSHIP –

2.     do not fear, I am with you. NEW SECURITY –

3.     you are my treasured possession, holy nation NEW IDENTITY–.

4.     Love the Lord you God…Love neighbor…wlak in these ways and you’ll thrive…NEW PURPOSE

              iii.    So good, and so important…but as we’ll see today…..

              iv.      BUT…we can’t get cozy at Sinai either. We’ve got to leave Sinai. Which, as it turns out, is tough…and requires us to face a lot of fear and anxiety…. Because…

             v.      There is a wilderness ahead. Uncertainty.

d.      I wish I could re-narrate the entire story this am, but I want to ask us to find ourselves in the foothills of Mt Sinai, the place that has become home since we left Egypt…and hear what God might be inviting us through and to…

e.       Hear God’s word from Exodus 33.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

4 When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’” 6 Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.  THIS IS THE WORD OF THE LORD…

OK…wow…a lot there. God says go…but I’m really ticked off at you. You’re really stubborn…

BUT, hang on…as it turns out, the word of the Lord continues…you’ve got to skip the rest of Exodus, jump over Leviticus, and page on through to Numbers 10 where we find out where this story continues…when the Israelites actually do leave Sinai.

11 In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the covenant.] 12 Then the Israelites set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai…

  •  What was going on in the meantime?  
  • …. over a year of prep work in the Moses discipleship program before they can go.
  • Over a year of building the tabernacle, making the ark of the covenant and everything in the tabernacle.
  • Over a year of being sorted into different groups with different tasks.
  • …of learning about different kinds of offerings and sacrifices. Learning about clean food and clean animals and personal purification.
  • …learning of holiness codes and Sabbath and festivals and jubilee.
  • A year of preparation.

We don’t do this much in seminary in three years.

OK so imagine this…this has become their home-away-from-their-Egypt-home.  

o   One year in tents away from home, wondering if they’d ever make it to their new homes.

§  Can you imagine that? I can hardly do 2-3 nights in a tent before I want my bed and my shower.

§  Finally time to go! Get packed. Numbers 10:33 - 33 So they set out from the mount of the Lord for a three days’ journey with the ark of the covenant of the Lord going before them to seek out a resting place for them.

o   Sounds like a happy ending is on the way!!!


o   But that’s not what happens. Stephen Dempster puts it this way:

o   “As soon as the journey from Sinai to the land of promise commences, the people move from disaster to disaster, or, in the telling place names given to the first few stops along the way, from ‘Fiery Blaze’ (Numbers 11:3) to ‘Graveyard’ (Numbers 11:34).”

And then it gets really messy.

  • The people began complaining even more.
  • That triggers Moses, who starts complaining himself.  
  • Aaron and Miriam are jealous and begin comparing themselves to Moses and begin complaining about Moses.
  • All that law and order that was set up, and now chaos has broken loose.
  • They’re left in confusion, out of control, scared, perhaps for some a situation that felt worse than slavery…


…what does it teach a people who live in homes with iphones and cozy beds and high def TV’s and global access and extraordinary privilege…I mean, it probably has much to say to the exile or the homeless person, the refugee or immigrant…and if you’re here this morning and can relate in that way, this story will have much to say. But what about me? Many of you?

1)      Two invitations

a.       Leave Certainty

b.      Embrace wilderness uncertainty

1.       Leave Certainty…the Sinai’s of our lives…

 a.       What if we’re on a journey, like the Israelites? What if Alistair McGrath was right…that we’ve got to leave Egypt, navigate through the wilderness, enter the land?

           i.      ….what if Sinai can become just as much of an obstacle as Egypt??

b.      God was asking the Israelites to leave a place that became a secure half-way house between Egypt and Promised Land.

           i.      …a place where they had learned discipline…prepared…learned obedience and trust…where they were given the law…

        ii.      Maybe they’d gotten kind of used to it???

        iii.      I was talking to student at graduation last Spring. Smart student who thrived in seminary. Knew how to do school. She said, “all I’ve known is school…this next stage feels so scary and uncertain…”

c.       Transitions can be hard. They’re uncomfortable.

          i.      The high school senior graduates and transitions into a new community and a new home.

          ii.      The marriage brings new responsibility, especially when Dad says, “Now you get to pay for your health insurance and car insurance and rent…”

d.      In 2008, Sara and I moved our two young daughters from Orlando to SF, from grandparents to a place where we knew no one, from a home we owned (pool/lake) to a cold empty house in the foggiest, coldest part of SF.

         i.      It was a transition from security to insecurity, certainty to uncertainty.

        ii.      But it grew us up…

e.       As it turns out, the Israelites had a very hard time leaving the comfort of Sinai…

          i.      They did leave physically, eventually…but they left their hearts there.

          ii.      Instead of living into the freedom God offered, they chose an addiction to the law.

1.      They chose sin-management instead of freedom…

2.      Moralistic security instead of bold trust…

3.      By the time Jesus comes along, there is a whole movement called “Pharisees” who left Sinai physically a long time ago, but never got free of its grip.

f.        And, I don’t blame them.

           i.      In Egypt, they’d lost any sense of story and identity, and at Sinai God began to put them back together.

            ii.      Why in the world would they want to venture into the wilderness…a place of terrifying creatures and unpredictable threats and an uncertain future?

g.       Because it’s time to grow up.

            i.      This year I watched my oldest daughter drive off on her own. I’ve watched so many firsts…first steps, first day of school, first sleepover…each felt like my heart was being cut out.

         ii.      But I had to let her go each time, because that’s how you grow up.

         iii.      Paul says in Galatians, “the law was our tutor, our guardian until Christ came.” Continues to serve us, but we don’t go back to that developmental stage…in fact, if we’ve really internalized the law it bursts forth in a desire to live with freedom in God’s design for our lives…

h.      How might you and I be stuck at Sinai?

          i.      Some diagnostic questions:

1.      Does faith in Christ feel less like an adventure and more like a set of obligations?

2.      Do you dwell more on what you might have done wrong than God’s delight in you? Perpetual sense of guilt/shame?

3.      Do you find yourself dwelling on the imperfections of others rather than the image of God in others?

            ii.      When we get stuck at Sinai, life is defined more by duty, obligation, comparison, jealousy, and judgment than joy, freedom, delight, compassion and curiosity.

             iii.      When we get stuck at Sinai, we’re apt to sound a lot like the older brother…”I’ve been slaving away…” it’s not fair!!

             iv.      When we get stuck at Sinai, your theological or denominational or religious system or tradition becomes more like a prison than a hospitable home.

1.      …more about who’s in and guarding the walls rather than opening our doors and inviting strangers, we’ve missed the point.

i.        Frankly, sometimes I like to live like a cranky, self-protected, judgmental, know-it-all…but venturing into the uncertainty of the wilderness promises so much more…

2.      Embrace a journey of wilderness uncertainty

a.       What do I mean by “wilderness?”

            i.      Wilderness is where we begin to lose control.

            ii.      Wilderness is where the lights go out, and we’re feel all around.

           iii.      Wilderness is when we discover life is more complex than we thought.

          iv.      Wilderness is when we come to the end of ourselves. Blessed are poor in spirit…

 b.      I have been in pastoral ministry of some kind for 20 years

            i.      I’ve seen every kind of wilderness moment.

1.      Julie and Mark – perfect family, devastated.

2.      Got a call from mother of a young man I was counseling to tell me he’d committed suicide.

3.      Email from a rock solid pastor who wasn’t sure he could call himself a Christian anymore.

4.      Just this past year – multiple deaths of teachers, children, cancer diagnoses, racial incidents in our community alone.

 Now, Chuck, did you say we ought to “embrace this?”

 c.       I’m not telling you to pray for pain and discomfort or a tragedy…

d.      I am saying…if you are alive and human and in touch with your heart, you will experience profound pain.

 “To love at all is to be vulnerableLove anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements

That is not the adventure of faith in the Exodus story.

 3.      Paul Trudeau – your life must be shattered. Walking alongside an addict.

 a.       Question that might help ::: What’s your story?

            i.      We all have one.

           ii.      I don’t know a story that doesn’t include some moments of confusion, pain, brokenness….

1.      Was talking to a young student two years ago who said, “I’ve had a great life…really no disappointments.” Really?

a.       Parents divorce.

b.      Addiction in family.

c.       Tremendous sense of insecurity.

d.      His story was full of wilderness, but he’d found coping strategies to keep it at bay.

           i.      Lots of achievements.

           ii.      Seemingly happy relationships.

           iii.      Sprinkle a little Jesus on top, and you’re all set!!!

           iii.      Midlife is also prime time to discern.

1.      The old satisfactions don’t work anymore.

2.      Your body doesn’t respond like it used to.

3.      The doctor starts checking you more carefully.

4.      The sense that’d you’d be farther along, or would have saved more money creeps in.

           iv.      You see, the wilderness may not come in a drastic way. It might already be here, but you might be avoiding it.

1.      One guy – six beers a night, my pool table, and a game on in the backgrounds keeps me comfortably numb.

2.      One woman – I lived in an abusive marriage but never felt like I deserved more. I cut off my heart, and refused to long for more.

 b.      What if the wilderness is a place of transformation?

c.       What if we can’t avoid it, go over, around…but only through it?

d.      Like Jesus.

            i.      You might say, Jesus lived and died so that I don’t have to suffer.

             ii.      I’d say, “Jesus lived and died so that your suffering matters…so that you can find your life mysteriously caught up in the life of Christ…so that you can know the depths and breadth of his love for you.”

             iii.      That’s why we come to the communion table so often.

            iv.      Bread – taken blessed broken given. So, we are…

            v.      So, the Exodus story is your story…

              vi.      You can study it from a distance, analyze it…but the invitation is to become a participant in it…to find your life mysteriously caught up in this grand adventure on the pages of Scripture from Genesis to revelation.

            vii.      Fellowship, that’s your mission if you so choose it. God’s peace as you journey on. Amen.

Renee Krueger