What does it mean to be saved?

The story of the Exodus is the most repeated story in the Old Testament.

It’s the story of God saving the Israelites from terrible slavery in Egypt; of God using Moses to call the Israelites to fulfil their purpose, which is to worship him; of God going to war on behalf of his people.

It’s the story of humiliation of Pharoah, suffering of the Egyptians, and – the most repeated part – the salvation of the Israelites by the miraculous parting of the Red Sea to save them and drown their enemies with their superior weapons of war.

Even many who dismiss miracles recorded in the Bible as “pre-scientific writing” believe the story of the Exodus. Why?

Because this story permeates the Bible and because no one would’ve invented such a story of call and origins. No other people group has such a story of being saved. Even the Quran in sura 7:136-138 mentions it.

I’m writing about being “saved” because the writer of Psalm 118 uses the word “salvation” three times in verses 14-29, which are included in the lectionary readings for tomorrow (link).

Verse 14 reads “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” These same words are found in Exodus 15:2, in the song the Israelites sang when the sea closed and drowned their Egyptian pursuers.

We often say Christians are “saved.” We often speak of “salvation.”

When did you first hear someone say he or she is “saved” or that becoming a Christian means “being saved.” Have you ever said you’re saved? When did you last say so? What did you mean by it?

Verse 16 explains what the psalmist meant when he used the word “salvation” in verse 14. In verse 16 he says, “the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” We must read this against verse 5, “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.”

For the psalmist, salvation means calling on God, trusting Him. Salvation means God responding by defending and freeing His people from their enemies. Salvation means God working on behalf of His people.

But hang on! Not so fast! Wait a minute! Look at what verse 18 says: “The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.”

Clearly there is a tension between Israel being “saved” once, from the Egyptians, by God, in an unmistakable way, and Israel – or Israelites – later encountering situations from which they need to be saved. Being saved means living in a state of tension.

We must also consider the psalmist’s use of the word “salvation” in verse 21, which reads: “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.”

The explanation is found verses, 19-20. In these verses, the psalmist asks to God to open to him the “gates of righteousness,” so that he might enter and “give thanks to the LORD.”

What do you think that means? This is what I think:

Those who are “being saved” live lives infused with the awareness that what we see is NOT all of reality.

Those who are “being saved” recognize that there is a non-material, spiritual dimension to life.

Those who are “being saved” strive to obey God and their consciences (“to be righteous”), constantly fail, and routinely rely on God to calm them.

Those who are “being saved” sail in the storms of life, with God.

Such persons have an unquenchable urge to worship God, with their every breath, step, and word, and in the community of others who are being saved. That’s why “thanksgiving psalms” or “entrance liturgies,” psalms like Psalm 118, were created.

The Israelites sang these psalms during festivals, as they walked in procession to the Temple, after examining their hearts and ritually cleansing their bodies.

How do we prepare ourselves when we go to meet God in the company of those who are “being saved” like us? What do we sing on our way there?

Perhaps you are wondering what “being saved” in the Old Testament era has to do with “being saved” in our post-Easter era. Space limits me to pointing you to this article by Patrick Schreiner in the Bible Project blog. Here’s a key extract:

[Matthew presents] the future age of salvation … in terms of deliverance from Egypt. Redemption and exodus are the main terms that point to Jesus as the new Moses. Isaiah speaks of a future salvation in the imagery of a new exodus.

Peace be with you!

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