Exodus 10-12; Psalm 20
So far in Exodus, we’ve read how the Israelites, descendants of Jacob, grew in number and then were oppressed in Egypt. Amidst this darkness, Moses is born, saved by his mother's quick thinking and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter.
As a grown man Moses killed an Egyptian to protect an Israelite, forcing him into exile. In the wilderness, he encounters God in the form of a Burning Bush. Despite his hesitations and excuses, Moses is chosen to liberate his people, with his brother Aaron as his spokesperson.
Returning to Egypt, Moses and Aaron demand the Israelites' release, only to face increased oppression from Pharaoh. God reassures them and initiates a series of plagues, each targeting a specific Egyptian god, from Hapi of the Nile to Ra of the sun. Initially, Egyptian magicians mimic these miracles, but their powers soon falter, acknowledging the plagues as God's handiwork.
And yet with each plague Pharaoh continues to harden his heart or have his heart hardened by God. If Pharaoh is determined to not listen, God will use this for his own glory.
Today we get the last of the plagues, and these are big ones. The 8th plague to hit Egypt is a plague of locusts that destroyed all the remaining grain in the fields and fruit on the trees.
This would have been devastating. Not only does that mean almost no food that year, but that would destroy a lot of the seed needed to plant the next year. The closest we could imagine today would be an economic crash that took years to recover from.
Then we have the plague of darkness. We can miss the importance of this one because we’re not Ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians believed in many gods, but their most powerful god was Ra, the god of the sun.
When the sun was blotted out for three days, it showed them how weak their most powerful god was compared to the God of the Israelites. The sense of impending doom would have been thick over the Egyptians.
But still Pharaoh is stubborn and refuses to let the Israelites go. And so we get, perhaps the most significant event in Israel’s history, the Passover. This moment is so significant that God said to the people, from now on this will be the start to their new year.
He gives them strict instructions on how to celebrate the Passover, outlining all the rules and traditions to follow as they remember this moment. Then, most importantly, they are to take the blood of a lamb and paint it over their door frame and hide away in the houses for the night.
And so the Israelites obey. And that night God comes, passes over the houses of the Israelites and kills the firstborn of every Egyptian household. The very power of Pharaoh is left destroyed. He was meant to be the one with the power over who lived and who died, yet he couldn’t even protect his family.
Finally, Pharaoh lets the people go. The rest of Egypt are so desperate to see the Israelites go they give them all their gold and silver jewellery. After all this time, it looks like the Israelites are going to leave.
They had spent 430 years in Egypt. They had been an enslaved people, poor and oppressed. Now here was their God, bringing them out of slavery, and bringing them out with wealth and resource.
God seals his commitment to the Israelites with the Passover and circumcision. Both these things will be a sign that these are God’s people.
This psalm is a Royal Psalm, (see Psalm 18, 45, 72, 110, 144 for examples of other Royal Psalms). Royal Psalms are psalms that are focused on either God as king or on a human king.
This psalm is attributed to king David, but was likely used in a service where the people pray over their king. Some believe this was in special services held just before the king would go out to battle. We see an example of such a service in 2 Chronicles 20.
Psalm 20:1-5- A prayer for the king
Psalm 20:6-8 - Our trust in God
Psalm 20:9 - A prayer for the king
The psalm launches straight into a prayer over someone. As we’ve mentioned already, the ‘you’ is likely the king. In many ways, this is less of a prayer and more of a blessing, as these words are aimed directly to the king and not to God.
The people speak God’s protection over their king, that his presence would follow the king as he leaves the temple and Jerusalem (Zion) to do battle.
As these words are being spoken, the king was likely giving sacrifices to God, so the people ask that these sacrifices be accepted by God. May God bless their leader granting him success in all he does.
This blessing isn’t just for the king. A victory for the king is a victory for Israel, and so they ask for victory so they too can rejoice because God has saved them.
Having prayed for their king, the people focus on God. They recognise that their confidence isn’t in their king. It isn’t in the might of his army. It is in God’s name, for he is the one who saves and strengthens their king.
In the Hebrew, all this is in what is called the perfect tense. This gives it a sense that all these things are already completed. In other words, what they are declaring is a ‘done deal’. Other nations may trust in their armies, but the Israelites trust in God. Other nations will fall, but the Israelites will be saved.
And finally, the people turn directly to God and offer up their prayer. They ask God to save their king. And they echo their opening lines. Just as they ask that God might answer king when he is in need, they now ask that their king may answer them when they are in need.
This psalm invites God into the needs of the people’s lives. Their situation meant that war was not uncommon. But through it all, they weren’t to trust in their own ability to get through it. They were to seek God’s help and have confidence in his ability to save them.
Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.