Freedom for everyone
Steve McQueen’s film Twelve Years a Slave is based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, born free in New York state but kidnapped in Washington DC in 1841, sold into slavery and kept in bondage for twelve years in Louisiana. He describes at length the horrors of slavery on the cotton and sugar plantations.
Eventually, in 1853, he was rescued from slavery and reunited with his family. He wrote, ‘They embraced me, and with tears flowing down their cheeks, hung upon my neck. But I draw a veil over a scene that can better be imagined than described... I have been restored to happiness and liberty.’
Slavery, in any form, is a horrific evil. Freedom is a wonderful blessing.
Moses is the liberator of God’s people in the Old Testament. He foreshadows Jesus – the supreme liberator. As Moses set God’s people free from slavery, so Jesus sets you free from slavery to sin.
‘Freedom’ is probably the best contemporary word to define what the Bible means by ‘salvation’. The whole Bible could be summed up as the ‘history of salvation’. It is the story of God’s desire and purpose to free his people. You are set free.
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
6 Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
9 Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
Enjoy the freedom that comes through faith
Are you in a time of trouble, distress or difficulty? David was in such a time, most likely connected to an impending battle. He called out to God for help. The first line of the psalm is a request for God to ‘answer you when you are in distress’ (v.1a) and the final line of the psalm is a request for God to ‘answer us when we call’ (v.9b). God answers prayer.
When you have ‘days of distress’, call out to God in prayer, asking him to bring salvation and freedom in the midst of struggle (vv.6–8). It is not a matter of foolhardy optimism, but rather one of realistic faith.
David recognises God’s ‘saving power’ – his power to bring freedom (v.6c). He says, ‘Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed’ (v.6a). He speaks of six things that you can ask for yourself, your family, your friends and your community:
‘May the Lord... protect you’ (v.1). ‘Put you out of harm’s reach’ (v.1b, MSG)
‘May he send you help from the sanctuary’ (v.2a)
‘May he... grant you support from Zion’ (v.2b)
‘May he remember... and accept’ (v.3)
‘May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed’ (v.4)
‘When you win, we plan to raise the roof... May all your wishes come true!’ (v.5, MSG).
Success, victory and freedom do not come from trusting in ‘chariots’ and ‘horses’ (v.7a). Rather, they come through faith – we ‘trust in the name of the Lord our God’ (v.7b).
Peter Disowns Jesus
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Judas Hangs Himself
27 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2 So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
Marvel at how your freedom was achieved
Jesus is the supreme liberator. Salvation history reaches its climax in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see here a glimpse of how much that cost Jesus: he is denied by one of his closest friends (26:69–75); he is betrayed by one of his disciples (27:1–10); he is handed over to the Roman authorities (v.2) and condemned (v.3a). Yet, Matthew sees that all this was to fulfil God’s plan (v.9).
Jesus was taken captive in order that you might go free. He was bound (v.2) to set you free from the things that bind you. Jesus came to set you free from your sin, guilt, shame, addictions and fears.
Have you ever really messed up in your Christian life? Have you ever felt a failure and that you have badly let the Lord down? Have you ever ‘wept bitterly’ (26:75) as a result? I certainly have.
Two of Jesus’ closest friends let him down badly. Sadly, we will all let Jesus down at points in our lives. These two examples help us learn how we should respond to such failures and disappointments.
There are many similarities between Judas and Peter. Both were disciples of Jesus. Both were told they would let him down (vv.24–25,34). Both fulfilled Old Testament prophecies through their actions (26:31; 27:9). Both deeply regret their actions (27:5; 26:75).
Yet there are also crucial differences between the two men. Peter responded to failure in the right way. Judas did not. As St Paul writes, ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death’ (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Judas is an example of ‘worldly sorrow’. He went to the religious leaders and confessed his sin, but they just weighed him down with more guilt (Matthew 27.4). He was seized with remorse but sadly he was not able to throw himself on God’s mercy and receive his forgiveness.
On the other hand, Peter is an example of ‘godly sorrow’.
Peter must have been so frightened to deny and disown Jesus three times. Perhaps, understandably, he feared being crucified with Jesus or perhaps he had doubts before this about whether Jesus really was who he claimed to be. But the cock crowing must have removed all his doubts. It left him feeling distraught: ‘He went outside and wept bitterly’ (26:75).
There is no more terrible feeling than the knowledge that we have let Jesus down. Thankfully, this is not the end of the story for Peter (see John 21). ‘Godly sorrow’ brought ‘repentance’, and his relationship with Jesus was restored. He was freed from his guilt and shame, and went on to become a great, holy, powerful and anointed leader of Jesus’ church.
You do not need to go around weighed down by guilt or shame about past sins and mistakes. Those whom Jesus sets free are free indeed (John 8:36). However much you have messed up and failed, it is never too late. Respond as Peter did and you can have a great future ahead of you in the service of Jesus.
The Plague on Livestock
9 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” 2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, 3 the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. 4 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’”
5 The LORD set a time and said, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this in the land.” 6 And the next day the LORD did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. 7 Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.
The Plague of Boils
8 Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. 9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”
10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.
The Plague of Hail
13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. 19 Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’”
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.
22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt—on people and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23 When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. 25 Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both people and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26 The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.
27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Pray to the LORD, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”
29 Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30 But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.”
31 (The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley had headed and the flax was in bloom. 32 The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed, because they ripen later.)
33 Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward the Lord; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land. 34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.
The Plague of Locusts
10 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them 2 that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.”
3 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 4 If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. 5 They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. 6 They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.’” Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.
7 Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the LORD their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”
8 Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he said. “But tell me who will be going.”
9 Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the LORD.”
10 Pharaoh said, “The LORD be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. 11 No! Have only the men go and worship the LORD, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.
12 And the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.”
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; 14 they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. 15 They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.
16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”
18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. 19 And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
The Plague of Darkness
21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23 No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.
24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”
25 But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the LORD our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.”
27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. 28 Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”
29 “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”
Use your freedom to worship God
In the service of God we find perfect freedom. You were created to worship and serve God. This is your purpose.
Pope Benedict XVI (when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote, ‘The only goal of the Exodus is shown to be worship… The land is given to the people to be a place for worship of the true God… the freedom to give right worship to God, appears, in the encounter with Pharaoh, to be the sole purpose of the Exodus, indeed, its very essence.’
Once again, in the history of the people of Israel, we see God’s salvation plan foreshadowed. We see his plan to free his people from slavery through Moses. Time and again God says words along these lines to Moses: ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me”’ (9:1).
He gives Pharaoh so many opportunities. Again and again Moses speaks the words of God to him: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me’ (9:13; 10:3,7). ‘Release my people so that they can worship me’ (MSG).
The world may understand your ‘good works’ but does not see the importance of your worship. Pharaoh accuses them of being lazy and sees worship as an alternative to work (5:17–18). But worship is your supreme purpose and work – in fact, the Hebrew word for ‘worship’ in this passage (‘avad’), can be translated as both worship and work.
God loves you. He does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The only way we will perish is if, like Pharaoh, we harden our hearts and ignore all the warning signs that God puts in the way. Pride was at the root of Pharaoh’s sin. The more he refused, the harder it became to change his mind without losing face.
Be prepared to admit to making mistakes rather than going on in the wrong direction regardless. No matter how long you have travelled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around.
God’s desire is for his people to be set free to worship him throughout the whole of life. He wants to set you free from guilt, shame, sin, addiction and fear. He wants to set you free to love, serve and worship him.
After Moses had prophesized another, the 7th destructive plague against the Egyptians, The Bible says in Exodus 9 verse 20.
‘The officials of Pharaoh who feared the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.’
These officials did take notice.
People can be very hard-hearted and no matter how many signs you shown to them, they still won’t believe. But faith can be found in the most unlikely places, there are people who do respond to God. You can’t write off a whole nation.
Verse of the Day
‘May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed’
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Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, (London: Sampson Low, Son & Company, 1853)
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.