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Numbers 3, 7&8: Speaking With God Face to Face

February 13, 2009

Numbers 7:89 has always stunned me.  In this verse we read, “When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the Testimony.  And he spoke with him.”  In this one verse we notice that Moses was afforded during his earthly sojourn the greatest privilege any human being may have . . . to hear the voice of God on this side of the grave.

 

Do you ever wonder what it must have been about Moses that he would have been granted such a privilege?  When Moses was conceived, very few people would have ever considered him a candidate for some special relationship with God.  It would appear that this special relationship was granted to him apart from any kind of human explanation.  When Moses was born there was a ban on Hebrew children so he was tossed into the Nile by his parents as had been commanded by the pharaoh.  Yet, rather than this event leading to his demise, God supervised his survival which was for the purpose of his people’s ultimate triumph.  Yet, there was certainly nothing about this baby that was particularly special, except for the fact that God had certain purposes for him.  Then in God’s good providence he was raised in the pharaoh’s household and learned diplomacy and how to speak with royalty.  He learned the proper graces of the court and the way that Egyptian law operated.  Ancient kings had many, many children so that they could ensure that each region would have a kingdom filled with leaders that would be trustworthy.  Kings could trust family and Moses was probably being groomed for some significant government post (not as the successor to the pharaoh himself like the popular movies portray). 

 

Yet none of these things would go as Moses or the pharaoh’s family would have expected as Moses, after killing a man fled into the desert to avoid arrest for what he had done.  While he was in that wilderness, he met his wife and began to build a new life for himself.  At that time it appears that he lived more like an Egyptian than a Hebrew as he had avoided circumcising his son (Exodus 4:24-26).  In some ways, before the burning bush, we might surmise that Moses may have been a secular sort of man.  Perhaps not secular in the modern sense, but in the ancient world filled with superstitions and polytheism, Moses didn’t seem to have any special relationship with the God of the Bible.

 

Then a new event arose in Moses’ life.  While he was herding sheep, a voice came to him out of a burning bush and this voice would eventually rock Moses’ world.  God called Moses to go back to the land that he had escaped from and stand in the very court that he had always hoped to avoid.  Moses would become God’s man in a world deeply cut off from a sense of God’s sovereignty over it.  Why God would have chosen this man for this purpose, as much as he seemed disconnected from God is a mystery to me. Yet, God did choose him and he would be granted a very special relationship with the Holy One of the universe. 

 

God had it in his perfect council and will that one day, this Moses a baby placed in the river Nile to die would one day have the type of relationship with himself that every pious believer would beg to have.  Wouldn’t you like to know what it is like to interact with God in the way Moses did?  If this is something that you really do desire, I believe that there is hope for you.  As AW Tozer notes, throughout this narrative, God makes his presence known by the means of fire.  Generally, when God is present there is fire nearby.  When Moses first met God, it was at the “burning” bush.  When God led the people out of Egypt and into the wilderness and then around in the wilderness, he would go before them with a flame of fire that the people could easily see at night.  When an offering was acceptable to God, as we read in today’s reading, God would consume that offering from fire from heaven.  In the Bible, fire is symbolic of the Lord’s presence.

 

In the New Testament, we read of the miraculous events of Pentecost and the permanent indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in God’s new program for the church was marked with tongues of fire. 

 

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”[1]

 

 

These tongues of fire began above the heads of our Lord’s disciples and then they began to speak in different tongues.  We may note in these verses in Acts 2 that these tongues of fire were internalized.  So what was the point of these tongues being “like” fire.  It appears that the only answer for this is that this fire which was apart from them, eventually became part of them so that after the Holy Spirit came to indwell them, he also burned within them.  In essence, how do we know if we are walking with God and communing with God as he has given us the opportunity?  The answer can be found by asking a simple question: do I burn for God?  Is there is a passion within my life that burns so brightly within me that I can hardly contain it or is my walk with God “ho-hum”?  The Bible teaches us that we can quench the Holy Spirit through disobedience and when we do, it is like we have taken a bucket full of water and thrown it on God’s work within our hearts. 

 

The truth is that Moses did not begin his life as a likely candidate to speak with God face to face.  Yet, when the opportunity presented itself, he made a conscience choice not to miss out on it.  Again and again, Moses returned to the Tent of Meeting to speak with God.  Moses understood that what he had in this relationship was amazing and he developed a great dependence upon God through it.  He didn’t begin the way we would imagine a giant of the faith to begin but he ended up that way, and this is what really matters. 

 

Moreover, Moses isn’t the only person God has intended to share rich communion with.  In fact, his desire is that you walk with him in a similar way.  Prayer is a gift that is available to each of his children and it is most rich when our lives are walked in a manner which will not quench the Spirit of God but will feed that fire through a passionate pursuit of personal holiness.  If you know Christ, take the time to walk with Christ and experience the uncommonly meaningful and rich life of faith that God intended you to experience.  Moses was an unlikely candidate, yet experienced it . . . so (if you are not experiencing this life) what is hindering you?  Like Moses, you have a choice, which will it be . . . the narrow or the wide road?


[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Ac 2:1-4

Leviticus 8-10: The Closer we Get To God, the More Holy we Must Be

February 11, 2009

There are very few things in life that I am more committed to than church attendance.  When I say church attendance, I do not mean out of legalistic compulsion, but out of a sincere desire to worship.  Fortunately, I was raised in a home where church attendance was not an option but was expected.  I can honestly say as well that I cannot remember a single time in childhood, during my teen years or in my pre-ministry adult life where I did not have a desire to go and to worship on Sundays.  In a sense, Sunday worship been, throughout my life, the most important event of my week.  The fact that this is so is a tribute to my parents who modeled this and to the churches that nurtured me in the faith always gave me a healthy environment to grow spiritually and worship.  No matter how my week had been, whether lived in spiritual triumph or in the dumps, worship always offered a place to get it all straightened out.  This text gives us a very important perspective on ministry, but not a perspective that limits itself to the professional clergy, but to all Christians.

 

The title of this post originated from a line in  Christopher Wright’s  commentary on Leviticus.  The closer a person is to God, the more careful they need to be about his holiness. ”Otherwise they bring dishonour on God among the rest of the people (3b). It is bad enough to treat the things of God with contempt oneself; it is far worse to cause others to do so (c.f., 1 Sa. 2:12–17, 29–30; 3:13; Lk. 17:1–2).”[1]  As we continue our journey through the five books of Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy), it will become increasingly clear that God takes our worship very seriously.  Our participation or our preparation in worship must not be haphazard and our attitude should be that to give our very best to God.  When we approach our personal times of worship, and even more importantly, our corporate times of worship in this way our worship experience will be far deeper and more meaningful than when we approach it in a haphazard and disengaged way.

 

When God’s people walk in God’s ways, there is great blessing all around.  In this text we are now introduced to the beginning of the priestly ministry of Aaron and his sons.  God ordained a priesthood in the Old Testament that would flow from the clan of Levi and from the house of Aaron, the brother of Moses.  The tribe of Levi who were not from the house of Aaron would assist the sons of Aaron (or the priests) in carrying out the sacred tasks of God’s holy priesthood.  In this text we notice that God gave a series of instructions ot Moses and Aaron and over and over again we notice in chapters 8-9 that Moses and Aaron carried out their duties exactly as God had ordered it to be.    This great obedience culminated in God showing his pleasure in a wonderful and visible way, “Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting.  When thy came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.  Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar.  And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown” (Leviticus 9:23-24). As Moses and Aaron had pleased the Lord in their great obedience, all rejoiced in this special new thing that God was doing.  For Aaron, particularly, this must have been exceedingly wonderful because he knew that it would be from his line that the priesthood would permanently spring.  There is no way that at this incredible moment, he could have anticipated what would come next.

 

While it was the best of times for Aaron, it quickly turned into the worst of times.  Aaron’s sons, after they had been consecrated to God with an anointing on their right ear, right thumb and their right big toe (symbolizing that in order to serve as a priest of God one must be cleansed from head to toe, which is a foreshadowing of the eventual work of Christ), quickly took advantage of their position and from the outset and offered “strange fire,” to the Lord.  There have been many theories about what this strange fire was but Wright’s explanation makes the most sense to me, viz., rather than getting the fire for the rites from inside the temple where they were instructed, for some reason they decided that it was just as good to import it from outside the tabernacle.  Surely to Aaron’s horror and heartbreak, God immediately consumed these two brothers with fire.  The question that we ask in circumstances like this is whether or not such a punishment seems overly harsh.  The answers that we have to these questions can be very obvious like, “we are all sinners and we will all die because of our sin eventually.”  While this is no doubt the case and a fact, the reality is also that God has certain expectations for those who walk with Him.  As Wright said so well, “the closer we get to God, the more holy we must be.”  This is a true statement that bears our own time of individual meditation.  Someone might protest, “this really doesn’t apply to me because these fellows were part of God’s priesthood and it should have been a matter of course that they be held to a higher standard than most of the rest of us.” While this may be the natural reaction for most of us, the reality is that if we know Jesus Christ as our personal savior, God has great expectations for us, “As you came to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:4-5).  So, we notice here that the corporate worship of God is not some legalistic expectation that others foist upon us, but that it is the natural desire of those who have been transformed by the living God.  When we worship God in the context of community we are actually doing our spiritual duty and living according to the heartbeat that began the day we were given a new nature.   So what do you think about this idea that the closer we grow to God, the more holy we are expected to be?  The only path to true intimacy with God is through surrender to Christ.  Surrender to Him today and begin a relationship that will grow deeper in relationship and greater in holiness throughout the course of your life.


[1]Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA : Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, S. Le 10:1

I’m Back Up

February 11, 2009

I have had some computer problems over the last few days, but I’m looking forward to being back on board today.  Thanks for reading.

Exodus 19-24: A Sermon on Idolatry from Exodus 20:4-6

February 6, 2009

Exodus 20:4-6
The church around the World reported in February of 2006 that the Indian government has just opened a new shrine. It is one of the largest Hindu temples of modern times. It is a 45 million dollar “pink sandstone shrine to tolerance, located in New Delhi. Those attending the opening was the nation’s Muslim president, its Sikh Prime Minister and its Hindu chief opposition leader. More than 7,000 sculptors worked for over five years on the temple. The building sits on 234 pillars topped by nine domes is decorated with more than 20,000 statues of gods and goddesses, encompassing the gamut of the Hindu pantheon.

In India today, I have been told, there are 350 million gods who are worshipped. The Hindu religion is pantheistic. This means that their god is everywhere and is not separate from His creation. They believe that he is in the walls, that he is in the chairs and rocks and trees and therefore they worship all of these things. Even rocks are worshipped at times. This was once illustrated to me by an Indian pastor. He shared with me that if a Hindu devotee happens to be walking up a path and trips on a rock and by tripping over that rock notices that there was a poisonous snake ahead which was ready to strike; a shrine to that rock would be naturally created and then it would be worshipped. New gods are being created as we speak!

We Christians believe that God is everywhere but that he is separate from his creation. So we say that God is omni-present.

Let’s face it, we live in a 7/11 world. When we want something, we go and get it. If we don’t have the money, we just pull out our credit cards. When a relationship becomes difficult or if it requires too much of us, we just break it off and go off into our walled world.

When you apply for a job, your employers will probably ask you if you are a self starter. When they ask this question, they are wondering how well you work while unsupervised. In the world, a person who manages themselves well, will generally be well rewarded for their efforts. We live in a culture where independence is rewarded and dependence is not appreciated whatsoever.

So here is where the rub is for us Christians: While God wants us to be hard working, industrious, entrepreneurial and passionate about what we do, he wants us to be dependent upon him for everything.

The seduction and consequences of idol worship hits closer to home than you may think.
In this text this command to not worship any idols hits home in two ways.

I. Idols are closer than you think.
It seems like it would be a good to ask the question, “What is an idol?” Well there are two answers for this. One answer is literal and the other is spiritual.

Literally – an Idol object that we worship.
Illus: Most people know that congregational churches are the oldest group of churches in New England. The pilgrims started the first congregational church in Plymouth in 1620 right after getting off the Mayflower. When giving tours of the church, often people ask the question, what are some of the distinctives of congregational churches? Well our church is a little different that many of the other congregational churches. Most of the older ones, like the first congregational church of Middleboro MA or Park Street in Boston are very plain inside. The reason for this was this second commandment. The pilgrims were under the impression that ornate churches take away a proper focus on God in worship and place it on the buildings. This is why the churches were plain and the reason why they called it a meetinghouse rather than a church. They were afraid of literally breaking this command. While I don’t believe you have to build plain churches, I applaud the fact that they did not want to be responsible for leading people into worshipping things in the church rather than the one for whom the church was created.

Spiritually – an Idol is anything that we build our lives around other than God.
In a place that we used to live, I went out at about 7:00 pm to jog. As I was running, I began to hear the roar of fire engines; I saw billowing smoke arising from a home not too far from where we lived. I continued to run my route and when I was almost through, I went right in front of the house. There was a sad scene with hundreds of people crowding a house going up in flames. The very next night at about the same time I started to go jogging and as I did, I noticed billowing crowds arising from an area near our house and I ran over there, and as I arrived I noticed that the fire fighters had just begun to assemble at the scene. Then it hit me. This scene was so sad because they were, at one point or another, someone’s idol. Someone sacrificed, saved, worked in order to purchase, maintain and enjoy those houses. In these houses children were raised, songs were sung, birthdays were celebrated, moments were cherished and in an instant and in a moment in time it was all gone. Surely they went in the same way that all idols eventually go. No material possession that you can see with your eyes, will survive into eternity. Yet we all are tempted to live for them. Look around you, all that will survive are those people that you can see and can impact for Christ.

A. My guess that most of us do not struggle with literal idolatry but this is why the Ten Commandments are so applicable to us.
B. The Sermon on the Mount gives us a glimpse on how we are to interpret these great commandments. There are two levels – one literal and one spiritual.
1. For example, in the Ten Commandments we learn that we are not to commit murder, then Jesus adds, even those who hate someone have already committed murder in their hearts. This is the nature of the Ten Commandments. There is an actual literal way to break God’s law and there is another way to break it, in our hearts. While most of us do not regularly worship idols literally, I would not be surprised that most of us have worshiped the idols of our hearts.
a. Whether this be material objects, relationships or positions of power of prestige. Anything, other than God, that we build our lives around is idolatrous.
There is no question that idolatry is everywhere.

Idols are Where you Least Expect Them.
Question #2 – We must ask ourselves another question, why are we so attracted to idols?
In the Old Testament we are given a picture into the allure of idols.
Exodus 32:1-10 “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him. Aaron answered them, “take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD’. So the next day the people arose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. Then the LORD said to Moses, Go down, because of your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. The have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made for themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up out of Egypt.” I have seen these people, the LORD said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
Now lets pick up again at verse 15:
Moses turned and went down the mountain with two tablets of the testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, There is the sound of war in the camp.” Moses replied: It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear. When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it into powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.” He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

There are a few observations that we can make about worshipping idols:
Why do we turn to other things other than God to build our lives around?
1. Because we want convenient religion. We want a god who comes to us on our own terms.
In this story that I just read, we find Moses, up on Mount Sinai receiving God’s law from him. The people were getting impatient because Moses had been up there for over a month and they began to wonder if he was ever coming down. They were in the mood to party and they wanted to do it sooner rather than later. They wanted God on their own terms. They wanted to start worshipping then or they weren’t going to worship at all. Thus, they were tired of waiting around for God. They ran their lives and they didn’t like having to interrupt it to worship the Lord.
2. We worship them because we want to be liked. Or, to say it in a different way, we secretly desire to be approved more by people than be approved by God. While very few of us will admit to this, it is very common for people. The only reason why the people were able to get a calf to worship is because they pressured Aaron, the priest and brother of Moses to do it. It is hard to believe that Aaron would betray his God, betray his holy office as priest and betray his own brother Moses by producing an idol for the people. What could have possibly prompted him to do this? It must have been the fact that he was not willing to face the rejection and shame of the crowds. Brothers and sisters, be very weary about following the crowds for Jesus taught us that the way that leads to destruction is broad, but the one that leads to eternal life is narrow.
3. This is key. We worship them because we want to have a religion that we can control. Idols are tangible in that we can ascribe to them that which only deserves. God cannot be scene, yet he sees everything. God cannot be touched, though he is everywhere. God’s demands on us are great. He calls us to nothing less than total discipleship. Jesus told us that we are to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Yes He promises peace on the journey and joy and love, yet he also promises us that we will be given the fruit of long-suffering. Why would we be promised such a thing, because cross bearing is hard. A cross is not just something we wear around our necks, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with this for it is a good reminder. But the cross was an instrument of torture and it was an instrument of death. When we become a follower of Jesus we are not asking for an easy road. O how the teachers of our day are promising such a pathway but it is not possible. Jesus has warned us that we will drink his cup and that we will bear his cross. But here is the wonderful part – while the cross is an instrument of death, it is also an effective instrument. When we put to death the deeds of the flesh and we will experience resurrected life today in this world. Yes there is suffering for Christ’s disciples but there is untold blessings that go along with it.

Oxford University Old Testament Scholar John Durham brilliantly observes the direction this commandment takes: “the worshiper who has made a commitment to worship only Yahweh must not compromise that worship by making it easy, that is by adopting for his own use shaped images to provide a concrete center for worship, a practice common to all of Israel’s neighbors.”

The sin of idolatry is so ingrained in our that we often don’t recognize it.
Sub Illus: I remember one time while working in a job, there was a fellow who was not our model worker. He was always in trouble and always on the verge of being thrown out of the company. In spite of all of this, he and I were pretty good friends. When going to work, I would often bring my Bible with me to witness and to study when we were on break. One day this fellow and I were talking and in the middle of it we received an work instructions. We had to fold up some netting and put it away. Because this material is difficult to work with, I happened to put my Bible down momentarily on the concrete floor. Within twenty seconds of putting my Bible down, this fellow, while good intentioned, misguidedly took my Bible from the ground, proceeded to wipe it off with a towel and then gave me a great public rebuke about how I had desecrated a holy book. Brothers and sisters, regarding the outward adornments of books and the physical layout of furniture in a church is not a holy pursuit, it is superstition. It is nothing less than idolatry! It is to substitute the substance of the Creator for the creation.
C. Genuine faith in God will result in a life which recognizes that it is not we who manage God, but in fact it is He who manages us. We are not in control of our destiny, but he is. No amount of positive thinking is going to symbolically twist God’s arm to do your will. The true task of faith, the true task of prayer is to find out what his will is for us and to pray that it will be done.
D. God tells us that there are some things that we don’t have control of. Many people turn away from God because they want to be the commander of their own universe. They want to control everything that happens and they feel that they can do it better than God. There are some things you can’t manage and you can’t control.
Illus: Have you ever done something or said something or made some gesture that looked or sounded or seemed just like your parents? No matter how hard you have tried to avoid it, you seemed to repeat it. For most of us there are traits that are positive and some that are negative. These things just happen and there isn’t much we can do about them. This is what the text is saying: We have the opportunity to shape succeeding generations for the better or the worse by the actions that we take and the lives that we live (Read verses 5-6). God is clearly showing his mercy here, our actions will affect 3 to 4 generations after us if we decide to worship a god in our own making. The god of our own appetite. Or we have another and better option, God will bless a thousand generations after us if we come to him, on his own terms, take up that cross and follow Jesus. Which will it be for you. How will you come to God. Will you manage your own life or will you surrender control of your future and place it in His hands and experience what good management is all about.

The Prince (told by Robert Morgan)
“Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian, told a story about a certain kingdom wherein there was a handsome prince, searching for a woman worthy enough to be he wife and to become queen of the land. One day while running an errand for his father he passed through a poor village. As he glanced out the window of his carriage his eyes fell on a beautiful peasant maiden. During ensuing days, he often passed by the young lady and soon fell in love with her by sight. But he had a problem. How could he seek her hand?

He could command her to marry him, but the prince wanted someone who would marry him out of love, not coercion. He could show up ot her door in his splendid uniform in a gold carriage drawn by six horses, attendants in tow, and bearing a chest of jewels and gold coins. But then how would he know if she really loved him or if she was just overawed and overwhelmed with his splendor? Finally he came up with another solution.

He stripped off his royal robes, but on common dress, moved into the village, and got to know her without revealing his identity. As he lived among the people, the prince and the maiden became friends, shared each other’s interests, and talked about their concerns. By and by, the young lady grew to love him for who he was and because he first loved her.

This is exactly the Gospel. The Prince of Peace himself, Jesus Christ, laid aside the robes of his glory, garbed himself as a peasant, became a human being, and moved into our village, onto our planet, to woo us to himself. Both the one who makes us holy and those who are being made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers.

No sinner escapes death, but through one victim, one righteousness, on faith, one hope, one clinging to the cross, one cleaving to one Lord, on journeying in one blood-stained path. There is one only Savior of all the saved, only one door of heaven, only one plea before the judgment seat, one only ransom of guilt” (Robert Morgan, 483).

Exodus 16-18: Is Jesus Enough?

February 6, 2009

Great hunger and thirst will turn just about any man into a fool.  The nation of Israel had just found new freedom, but a month to the day after their miraculous exodus from Egypt they found themselves wishing to go back.  This is what momentary trouble causes us. . . it gives us the desire to take hold of the reigns of our own life and do what feels best, even when we know that it isn’t God’s best for our lives.  There is no question that God wants his children to depend on his provision.  It is in this dependence that we find richness in our relationship with the living God of the universe.  It is when we walk independently of God that we dwell in the spiritual poverty of our own self-dependence. 

 

I hope for each reader of this blog that there was a moment in your life to which you can definitively point to as the moment you were born again of the spirit of God.  As Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:5).  This experience is marked by the incoming of the Holy Spirit taking up residence in your life.  The moment in which you trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, there was  a dramatic change in your life. Some can’t remember the day because they were children when they received Christ, but whatever day that was would have led to a dramatic way of life.  A way of life that is different as what went before as light is from darkness. Jonathan Edwards, an eighteenth century congregational pastor and theologian from New England described this change of life as a “divine and supernatural light imparted to the soul.”  This experience, what theologians call our “conversion,” marks a day in which we are no longer dominated by desires for the things of the flesh but now long after a life lived by the Spirit of God (Romans 8).  After this change of heart, God will begin to challenge you in ways that you would not often anticipate.  It is important to remember that it is God’s will that we depend not on ourselves or other people but on his provision for our lives.

 

 Daily Dependence is the First Step of Christian Discipleship

Yet we must remember that the moment in which this happens to us, God will never leave us there for he will ever challenge us to grow deeper in our walk with Him. It is not difficult for people to who are religious to acknowledge their devotion to God when things are going well.  When times are tough, we begin asking questions like “why me?” and “could a loving God allow someone like me to go through all of this?”  The truth is that God knows that we will ask such questions as we are told in Scripture that Jesus was tempted in all ways like we are and that in the garden of Gethsemane he asked that the cup of his passion be taken away from him.  While Jesus did ask this question, he accepted the Father’s will and went to the cross without sin.  It is critical that we begin to look at our struggles in the same way.  While they are difficult and the circumstances around them can be desperate, God calls us to trust Him in the midst of it.

 

This text makes it clear that God is now in the process of testing his people who have just departed Egypt with a number of trials.  This section of Scripture will begin to give us a picture of the peoples’ spiritual state.  As they traveled out into the desert, it wouldn’t be long before whatever food the nation had when they departed Egypt had been depleted at this point.  It would have to be a very difficult task to scrounge up food for two million people on a daily basis.  The people began to have doubts about all that had happened and somehow they began to think that the God who parted the waters for their freedom was about to fall short of providing for them under these very difficult, and seemingly impossible circumstances.  The people began to “grumble” and came to Moses and Aaron and protested, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (16:3-5).  In other words they were saying that they would have been better off to be an enemy of God (“died by the LORD’s hand), then they were as children of God.  This is a very sad but revealing statement about their level of contempt for the Lord. 

 

Rather than attacking the people for what they had done, God responded very graciously to their cries and sent quail and manna to take care of their needs.  The manna was a type of bread that looked like a wafer like substance that was light in color and sweet in taste.  They were to gather enough for only one day at a time.  If the people attempted to gather more for two days (with the exception of the day before the Sabbath), the manna would be filled with maggots on the following day. Obviously, God was teaching the people to depend on his daily provision.  God knew that these lessons would be essential and this was the first area of growth for their lives.  Daily dependence on God for all life’s needs is the first rule in discipleship.  God provided the manna six times a week for forty years, and incredibly a huge percentage of the population never quite got the message.  When Jesus referred to himself as the “true bread from heaven” (John 6:33), he was using this story as the backdrop of his statement.   Jesus was teaching us that he is our daily sustenance.  Are you feeling weak today? Turn to Jesus and he is the one who will sustain you in your hour in need.  Perhaps you know by turning to him today that you can get through today, but you are not sure about tomorrow.  Jesus is telling us in these verses that we ought not worry about tomorrow.  He is calling us to focus on him today and when tomorrow does come, he will give us the strength to make it through another day.

 

In chapter 17 we are introduced to another difficult situation that the people faced in the desert.  As bad as it would be to have two million people with nothing to eat, it would be even worse to have two million people with you who had nothing to drink.  The nation would move from place to place as God directed by cloud during the day or a pillar of fire during the night.  The place that God had now moved them to literally had no water and probable mass dehydration was beginning to set in amongst the people.   Once again in the text we read, “They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’ . . . “then they said, ‘why did you bring us out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’” (Exodus 17:1,3).  God once again was gracious to this grumbling people and ordered Moses to go and strike a rock and flowing forth from that rock came a great amount of water to take care of the nations needs.  Once again, God provided when things seemed their worst.  In fact, I believe that Jesus was also referencing this miracle when he said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  When you have Jesus, you have it all.  Even when you go through great trial he gives you the grace to trust in him and know what it is to never go without spiritual food and spiritual drink.  When we know Jesus truly and intimately we will no longer have to run here and there to find our deepest spiritual desires filled. 

 

God continued to teach the Israelites moment by moment dependence for as soon as God gave them water news came that they were going to be attacked by the Amalekites.  As General Joshua, arguably Moses’ closest spiritual friend, assembled the men and engaged in the fight Moses was ordered to hold up his staff.  Whenever Moses dropped his staff, Israel would lose ground and when it was raised, their men gained ground.  “When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it.  Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset.  So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (Exodus 17:11-13).  God was giving another graphic object lesson about dependence upon himself: God ultimately controls the outcome of all events and those who depend on him will experience his blessing. 

 

So many people bounce from place to place seeking spiritual experiences.  We go from church to church, react from one worship style to another never finding the answer to their souls hunger and thirst.  The fact is that those who know Jesus know that he is enough (and sometimes must re-learn this lesson). He is not found simply in having religious experiences in different types of worship services or amongst different sets of friends or in embracing some new faddish theological trend.  Jesus is found in the midst of everyday life.  He is our daily provision; he is our constant companion; he is the source of every good thing.  Is Jesus enough for you or do you need some other experience to accompany him?  When you have trials and you are stuck deciding between what God says is best and what you think is best, which do you choose?  Is Jesus enough for you or do you still think that when it comes to certain matters, your wisdom is superior or generally preferable?  Is Jesus enough for you? Have you partaken in his all satisfying bread or gulped his eternal water? Does his presence in your life satisfy your deepest spiritual hunger and does your relationship with him quench your deepest spiritual thirst?  If you know Jesus, then you know that he is all you need. “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Your forefathers ate manna and died, but eh who feds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:57-58). 

Exodus 14-15: My God Can Beat Up Your god

February 4, 2009

A few years ago, Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler became the governor of Minnesota. A few years ago while driving through the state I noticed a bumper sticker on a car that read, “My Governor Can Beat up Your Governor.” It didn’t take me long to realize that this was one of those blanket statements that happened to be true all the time.  Those of you from California might protest, but I saw this bumper sticker before “Arnold” was governor of your state. 

 

One theme that we are going to see throughout the text of the rest of the Bible is this completion among various cultures for the supremacy of their God. The polytheists of the Biblical times typically believed that the nations with the strongest gods would prevail.  If a god was powerful, then the nation that served him/her would be powerful.  If the god they served was weak, then the nation that served him/her was necessarily weak.  As was mentioned previously, that when he announced that he wanted to take the people out to worship YHWH, Pharaoh claimed to know nothing of him.  One wonders if the pharaoh had this reaction simply because he did not respect the God of a nation that was so weak in his eyes.  Whatever his opinion of the God of the Bible before this Moses came along, after today’s reading, he would take a much different perspective on his great power.

 

After the exodus, the people of Israel fled into the wilderness on their flight from Egypt.  As they departed the land they were given articles of gold and silver by the Egyptian people.  After the immediate shock of Passover night and all the death that was left behind had passed, pharaoh began to wonder what he had allowed to happen with the departure of two million slaves from his nation.  Even with the blow of what had happened with the firstborn of Egypt, hard-hearted pharaoh would not allow them to go without one more fight.

 

The great king mobilized a large army to go and get the Hebrew people.  Finally pharaoh and his army reached the nation as they camped by the sea.  While it may be very likely that the sea the Israelites crossed was the Red Sea, there has been much discussion in scholarly circles and there has not been a consensus that this is, in fact, the case.   Conservative scholar Walt Kaiser writes this about the sea in question:

 

 “Thus God led Israel around by the “desert road” or the “way of the wilderness” toward the “Red Sea” or, better, “Sea of Reeds”.  Kenneth Kitchen associates this body of water with Lake Menzaleh or Lake Ballah. Kitchen does not that Yam Suph (NIV mg.) may also be connected with the Gulf of Suez.  Israel camped on the west coast of the Sinai Peninsula by Yam Suph on their salt waters of the Gulf of Aqabah (Deut. 1:1; 1 Kings 9:26, et. al.,).  Thus nothing prevents our linking Yam Suph with the Red sea. ( The Red Sea of that day did not include the Gulf of Suez modern extension of the Red Sea.)

 

Once the Hebrew people saw the Egyptian army closing in on them they were struck with terror and assumed that they would be destroyed by the wrath of pharaoh.  It is too easy to become overly critical of the Hebrew people at this point; we must remember that they had been abused by the Egyptians for generations as far as their minds could see.  The family of Jacob entered Egypt as seventy and they had grown to become a nation of two million mentally and physically abused people.  They had suffered under the cruel task masters of the Egyptians for hundreds of years and they had all experienced the fury of their overlords.  In this moment they cried out to Moses and said, “Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’” (Exodus 14:12).  The reality was that God was in the process of building up his peoples’ faith change the way they conceptualize his power over the obstacles that they would face.  Moses gave them words of advice here that would be wise for all of us to observe when we find ourselves in times of trouble, fear and doubt:

 

“Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13b). 

 

When things seem out of control and over our head, sometimes the best thing that we can do is to be still, carry our burden to God and allow him work these things out according to his perfect plan.  There was no way that the Hebrew people could have defended themselves against this incredibly well-trained army that pharaoh brought with him.  Yet, with God the Hebrew people did not need the United States military Special Forces; they only needed a special God.  Pharaoh thought that he was a god and thought that he worshipped a more powerful god than YHWH and this belief may have given him courage to go after Israel, yet this belief would be quickly dismantled in the following events.

 

God had Moses lift his staff over the sea and the water began to part with a strong east wind.  The people crossed on dry ground.  Following this the Egyptians followed the Israelites into the sea and God created great disruptions in this well organized military’s ranks with the breakdown of equipment and other issues.  Finally when God gave the command, Moses again lifted up his staff and the waters rushed over Israel’s tormentors.  It was the intention of pharaoh to capture this people group and send them back under his yoke of slavery.  There surely would have been an attack on the Hebrew people themselves and many would have been killed.  God, on this day, would spare the Hebrew people this terrible fate and defeated their enemies with a power and swift intervention into their lives.  With this God proved that he would be with them and that in YHWH, they had a God who was the true God and the only God worthy of their worship. This would be a lesson that their posterity would learn over and over agin until the southern kingdom of Judah would be sent into exile in Babylonia around 586 BC.  After that event, the Hebrew people never again really struggled with polytheism.  But that event will not take place for nearly a thousand years after the exile. 

 

So where would you rate your trust level in God.  When you have stressful events, how easy is it for you to take a deep breath, say a prayer and then leave your troubles in God’s capable hands?  Have you ever experienced the liberation of this great promise from our Lord, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and ou will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29; NIV).  Trust him with your life today – he has the power to carry out all that he has promised — He is faithful.

Exodus 12-13: God will Never Pour Out His Wrath on His People

February 3, 2009

Too many of us live awaiting the other shoe to drop.  There are times when we may imagine God as one sitting enthroned in heaven and waiting for the most opportune time to strike us down.  When things happen to be going very well, a pessimistic impulse sometimes may fill our guilty consciences and cause us to believe that we must be especially ready in those moments for God’s retaliation.

 

With a quick reading of these two chapters, these suspicions can very easily be confirmed.  We begin in this text with God preparing his people for the final great plague. Like many ancient cultures, the Egyptians considered their Pharaoh a god.  He was revered and worshipped.  Not only was Pharaoh a god but so was his successor, his firstborn son.  The significance of this must not be lost on the reader of Exodus. It was within this context that God would deliver his final blow to this nation that oppressed the Hebrew people for four hundred years.  For centuries the blood of Hebrew people was spilled in service to their Egyptian slave masters.  Consecutive generations of Men, women and children in great numbers lived their lives and died in obscurity without ever tasting a day of the kind of freedom we experience on a daily basis in the free nations of the world today.  They suffered the sting of the whip tearing their body into strips and the witnessed the heartbreak of watching their little baby boys in huge numbers thrown into the Nile because of the Pharaoh’s lust for oppression and power.  The Hebrew people had only known injustice and in the deepest possible pain cried out to the Lord their God for freedom. 

 

God raised up Moses to bring to the Hebrew people the liberty they so deeply craved, but this liberty would come at a great cost to those who had once exploited them.  Following the departure of the Hebrews, their economy would be crushed as their cheap labor would be gone, their possessions would be plundered and their firstborn sons would be lost.  After centuries of stealing wages, forced poverty and the destruction of Hebrew baby boys, the Egyptians would themselves get a taste of their own medicine.

 

While the Hebrews had experienced many generations of exploitation from the Egyptians and had suffered their wrath, God had a perfectly planned deliverance for the people in mind.  After four hundred years in slavery, the nation had grown vast, as God had promised Abraham it would.   For this people of great promise, it must have seemed like God would never fulfill the promise to make them into a great nation.  The time the Hebrew people spent in slavery was similar in duration to the time that hs elapsed since the pilgrims sailed to Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.  As far as the memory could bear, all these people knew was slavery and this slavery which presumably created a lack of confidence in the God of the Bible among many of the Hebrew people.  This is because Ancient people groups gauged the greatness of their god’s power on how well the god’s servants did in life.  From Pharaoh’s perspective, the God of the Hebrews was not even remotely significant to him as he did not feel any need to allow them to go and worship him.  This refusal was nothing less than a slap in the face and a way of stating that their God must have been pretty weak if the enslaved Hebrews were his special people.

 

There is truth to the old saying that he who laughs last, laughs loudest.  Pharaoh presumed because the Egyptians had dominated the Hebrews that it was an indication of their god’s superiority.  It is within this milieu that we begin to get a clear understanding of the significance of the last and most terrible plague.  God was about to show Pharaoh which God was the true God and which one was the pretender.  Unfortunately, for pharaoh, he was shown to be the fraud.

 

Before the night of the Passover, God instructed the Hebrew people to prepare for something big that was about to happen.  The time of freedom was about to come and we learn how quickly when God gave instructions to Moses on how the Passover should be eaten.

 

“This is how you are to eat it.  With your cloak tucked into your belt, our sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.  Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.  “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals – and I will bring judgment on al the gods of Egypt.  I am the LORD.  The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:11-13).

 

Throughout the narrative we have learned over and over again that while God would strike Egypt with darkness or hail, etc., he would not strike Goshen with these plagues.  Finally, in the tenth plague, we once again notice that God will not pour his wrath upon his people.  It isn’t that his people were without sin and did not exploit others in any way (though they certainly did not in proportion to the Egyptians) that God spared them. The reason why God spared the Israelites was because they were his children by faith and because they believed him, he was gracious to them.

 

Dr. Tony Evans has a great illustration about what it must have been like for the Hebrew people on that fateful Passover night when the firstborn of all Egypt were struck down.  Can you imagine what this must have been like for these families on that evening when they knew what was going to come?  All through the night the land of Egypt was filled with the awful sorrow of families who awoke only to find the firstborn of their households no longer with them.  Can you imagine even more what it must have been like for those firstborn Hebrew children locked down in their homes and waiting for this terrible evening to pass.  As she sobs and the wailing spread throughout the land, they must have wondered if they too would have to face death that evening.  Perhaps as a firstborn began to be gripped with fear and jump into his mother’s arms and crying out, “mommy, what is going to happen to me?”  And in the midst of that horror, the little boy’s dad would lean over and say, “son, don’t worry, look at the blood on the doorpost.  Because of the blood of the lamb, you will be spared.  Son keep looking at the blood and know that you will live.”  This illustration is a great reminder for us as Christians. 

 

Sometimes we worry if God will really accept us on that day, and the reality is that our relationship with him is something that we ought to think long and hard about.  But if you have begun a relationship with Jesus Christ; if you have repented (i.e., turned away) from your sin; if you have asked him to wash away your sin through a genuine trust of his death on your behalf; if you believe that he has been raised from the dead and if you have asked him to be your Lord and Master and you really meant every word of it – you are His child and you have no reason to fear because God will never pour out his wrath on his people.  This is the most important decision that any person could ever make.  This is where a relationship with God starts and this is a commitment that Pharaoh, sadly, wasn’t willing to make.  Trust him today and experience true freedom.

 

Exodus 1-4: Do You Prefer Comfort or Greatness?

February 2, 2009

We all like to be comfortable.  Wouldn’t it be great to be completely healthy, have a house that is paid for, money in the bank, two sets of reliable transportation in the driveway and well adjusted kids?  Most of us, if we are really honest about our lives would like to be, know that we tend to strive to this ideal.  Off and on throughout the course of Moses life, comfort was a big part of his experience.  While living in his comfort zone was what Moses really lived for, it was not what God had intended for him.  God had chosen greatness or spiritual significance for Moses rather than comfort.

 

We fast forward a few hundred years to a new time in Goshen.  We left off with the family of Jacob prospering.  As we enter the text in this book they are no longer in prosperity but in poverty.  They are no longer living as favored ones but as despised ones. They are no longer living freely off the land but they are enslaved to work on the land.  They have gone from prodding cattle to being prodded like cattle.  We learn that in the intervening years between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses that the Egyptians had forgotten the forbearer of the Hebrews that helped make Egypt great.  Many scholars argue that this may have meant that Moses may have been risen up during a time when foreigners ruled Egypt called the Hyksos.  If this is the case that it was during this period, it would explain why the leaders had forgotten Joseph.  At any rate, a long period of time had elapsed between Josephs day and Moses time and this alone is enough to reasonably why the accomplishments of Joseph would have been fairly irrelevant to the Egyptians in any case.

 

Before Moses could remember, the world around him was a crazy place.  The river Nile ran red with the blood of little Hebrew babies.  The nation had grown very large since we left them in Genesis and the Pharaoh began to become very concerned about what this might all mean.  Because of this, Pharoah decided that all the boys were to be cast into the Nile in order to guarantee that the nation would not continue to multiply as it had been doing.  Pharoah did this because he feared that the Hebrew nation would one day cause big problems for Egypt and perhaps become freed from servitude. 

 

The One that Got Away
As we have learned from previous sections in Genesis, it is a pointless exercise to attempt to thwart the Will of God.  God had a plan for Moses and no bit of manipulation by Pharaoh would change this.  Moses was born to a family in the tribe of Levi during this time when Hebrew babies where being thrown into the Nile.  As Moses was put into a basket by his family it drifted down stream and God put a great sense of compassion into the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter.  “When she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it.  She opened it and saw the baby.  He was crying and she felt sorry for him” (Exodus 2:5-6).  In spite of Pharaoh’s best efforts, the one child that would actually bring down the Egyptian domination of the Hebrew people survived.  It is grievous to consider all the children who were needlessly killed for the benefit of the Pharaoh’s false sense of security.  It reminds me of the sad practice of abortion today where babies are being killed mainly for convenience and comfort.  It is truly a heartbreaking reality that we could actually treat children in modern society with the same callousness as the Egyptians had with reference to the Hebrews in their day.

 

Throughout Scripture we notice constantly that God uses ironic situations to demonstrate his amazing power and his ability to accomplish what he sets out to do.  Moses was raised in an environment with the greatest of comforts.  When we think of his upbringing, it is important to recognize that we ought not think about it the way that his life has been portrayed in popular movies.  As far as we know, there was never a plan to make Moses Pharaoh.  In fact, it is likely that he had no shot.  Pharaoh would have had a large harem and from that harem he would have had a whole host of children.  The one who raised him, the daughter of pharaoh would have been one of presumabely many, many grandchildren of the king.  To think that Moses, who was an adopted Hebrew, would have had any chance to be king seems slim and none. 

 

While Moses would never be king, and this was not God’s intention for his life, he would be given a fine education.  Most likely, he would have learned how the government operated and he probably would have learned how to speak to the pharaoh, etc., In other words, what Moses would have received would have been an excellent education for what he would be eventually used by God to accomplish — to negotiate the release of God’s people.

 

Moses time under the Pharaoh ended on a day that he watched an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.  After witnessing this attack, Moses could not control himself and attacked the Egyptian.   Moses went after the Egyptian so violently that he ended up killing the man and this sent Moses on flight out of Egypt.  Here was his life, so full of promise and now seemed to be over.  His life of comfort and security now began to crumble in the aftermath of the Egyptian’s death.

 

Moses fled to a place called Midian and when he was there he met his wife and began a new family.  One gets the sense in this narrative that Moses actually considered himself, for all practical purposes, an Egyptian.  In fact, when describing Moses some girls who he rescued from some unkind shepherds answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered our flock” (Exodus 2:18b-19).  Not only this makes one wonder if he downplayed his Hebrew identity, but the fact that he did not circumcise his son furthers the theory.  It seems that Moses had decided to carve out a new life for himself and in order to do so decided to leave behind everything he knew before and especially the part about him being a Hebrew. 

 

The One that Couldn’t Get Away

Moses did a remarkable job rebuilding his life given that he had fled from the world’s most powerful man.  As has been mentioned, he found a wife, began having children and began to grow his own herds of animals.  This new comfortable life that Moses had been carving out for himself came to a screeching halt the day that he drove his animals to the “far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”  It was here that the God of the Universe revealed himself to Moses and graciously shared with Moses that his name is YHWH, meaning “I am.”  God was, in essence, promising Moses that he would be with him wherever he would go. 

 

As a side note, AW Tozer always makes the interesting observation that often describes himself as like fire.  In this text we notice that God met Moses at the “burning bush.” The bush was not actually on fire but simply appeared to be so because God was present.  When the God of the Bible lives within us, there will be a fire in our hearts for him. When we are not living in right relationship with him, his fire will not burn brightly within us.

 

My guess is that Moses never returned to Egypt because there were many guilty memories lying back there for him.  He constantly had to live with the truth that he was a murderer and that he was a fugitive.  One wonders if every time he ran into Egyptian troops or Egyptian traders as he went on his routes if he ever worried that one might recognize him.  Moses was wanted for murder and the very household of Pharaoh wanted his head.  I’ll bet that Moses wanted to adopt a low profile and do his best to carve out the most comfortable life possible and avoid being arrested for murder. 

 

Yet in the midst of this incredible text, God was now calling Moses to a new way of life, a life in which he would be challenged to go back to the place that he feared the most.  To go to the court of the Pharaoh who he had feared would hunt him down and have him killed.  I’m sure that the thought of going back to the place that brought the most fearful for him was his worst nightmare.  This is why, I believe, that Moses kept making up reasons why he could not go back to Egypt and do what God had been asking him to do.  “Thus Moses was by no means a shining model of faith and trust in God, but it is unfair to charge him with being blunt and dictatorial.  However, neither could he have been so certain as to know exactly what would be the response of is brethren in Egypt.  His object was to stall for time.  Thus he did by posing further nuances to what he had already been told – all of which exhibits a certain lack of confidence in God” (Kaiser, EBC, 325).  The obvious reality that we notice from this text is that Moses did not want to go on the mission that God was about to send him.  He had too many skeletons in his closet and to go back. To do so would mean risking everything he had built for himself since he ran away all of those years before.  The truth is that God wanted spiritual significance for Moses while he wanted comfort.  As this story unfolds we will notice that God will win and eventually Moses will be grateful that he did.

 

How about you?  What would you rather have a life of comfort or a life of significance.  There is no doubt that both of these are possible for many people in many different ways.  It is possible to live a comfortable existence and live within the center of God’s will.  Yet, on the other hand, much of the time God will not allow us to simply live our days out in that state.  At the end of the day, Moses, like Abraham had to step out in faith and trust God and when he did, the whole world was turned around.  God may have such a plan like this for you – are you willing to seek him out and find that out?  A life of spiritual significance that is beyond your wildest dreams may lay in the balance.  I pray that you’ll make the right decision.

Genesis 48-50: And the Beat Goes On . . . Are You Willing to Trust God’s Promises?

January 31, 2009

Life seems so arbitrary sometimes.  Each day seems to bring with it new challenges and hurdles to be overcome.  Sometimes we have surprises that are invigorating and there are moments when the wall in front of us seems to great to overcome. In these moments in which the unknown seems so overwhelming, where do we go for a sense of stability – a place where we can be grounded?    There is no doubt that it is to God that we must run in those frightening times of uncertainty.  It may even be right now that you may be worried about your church or job or your income or your business or your education or your children or your husband, wife or your parents.   Of course, for the Christian, our first answer is that we run to God as the psalmist says, “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-2).  So if this is the case that God is our refuge and our fortress, in what ought we take comfort during the unknown of our lives?  Well, a simple answer to that is in his promises.  While it is easy to say, “trust in God’s promises,” there is no underestimating the power of this principle when applied to our lives.  Throughout the book of Genesis a central theme has emerged: It is much easier to talk about God’s promises than it is to actually trust and apply God’s promises.

 

Genesis 48-50 has traditionally been considered a section of this book that revolved around blessings.  This is true, but it seems that we could more accurately define it as a section of prophesy.  This is because not all the “blessings” given to Jacob’s sons seemed like real blessings.  For example, we read, “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags.  When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor” (Genesis 49:14-15).   Instead, these blessings are really prophesies concerning the sons of Israel. These prophesies are promises about the futures of the men and their families and the clans that would eventually spring forth from them and occupy the land of Canaan in a little more than 400 years from Jacob’s death.  Whether the actual blessings were positive or negative for individual sons of Jacob, it is clear that each one of them would have a massive lineage which would each occupy a significant place within the formation of a great new nation.  In other words, they had no reason to fear the unknown because their futures were secured by the promises of God.  In chapter 48 we notice that Joseph first brought his sons to Jacob for their blessings.  Because Joseph was considered the first born by Jacob, his sons were to get a double portion of blessings. Joseph’s two sons were named Manasseh and Ephraim. When Joseph brought his boys in for their blessing Jacob first inquired as to whom Joseph had brought him (this may have been part of an adoption rite) and then crossed his arms to put his right hand on the younger son and his left on the older.  Joseph tried his best to reverse this, but it could be no other way.  God had chosen it to be this way.  So we come to the end of the book of Genesis and we notice that once again God’s will once again trumps human decision.  Abraham wanted Ishmael, but God wanted Isaac; Isaac wanted Esau but God wanted Jacob; Jacob wanted Rachael but God wanted Leah; Jacob wanted Joseph but God wanted Judah; Judah would have wanted Zerah but God wanted Perez; Joseph wanted Manasseh but God wanted Ephraim.  The pattern here is very obvious as the patriarchs chose wrong ever time, yet it did not matter because God’s Will is unstoppable and God’s promises are more firm than the constant rotation of the earth itself.

 

The greatest foundation for the Christian life itself lies in the promises of God.  Trusting in the promises of God or fretting about the future is a lesson that each generation and each person must deal with on their own.  While we are often double-minded, God is always sure and his will is always done.  OT Scholar John C.L. Gibson has written this about each of the promises and their application to the future of Israel as a nation.

 

“The tribes represented by the three oldest brothers were not strong in later times. Reuben succeeded only in occupying a small territory east of the Jordan, and Simeon and Levi were in the end unable to capture any land at all. Simeon was scattered partly in Judah and partly in the north, and Levi became an elite priestly caste. These happenings are set forth as a reckoning for the misdeeds of Jacob’s sons related in 35:22 (Reuben’s incest) and in chapter 34 (Simeon and Levi’s terrible vengeance on Shechem), which is on the face of it fair enough. . . . The tribes which settled in Transjordan (Gad) and in the north of Palestine (Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali) are likewise given short shrift. All that is said of Zebulun is that it lived close to the sea, though in fact Asher’s territory was nearer the Mediterranean. Issachar’s “forced labour” is thought to allude to the troubles it experienced from having the powerful Phoenicians of Sidon as near neighbours. The verses on Dan probably have in mind the sorry story of Judg. 18, which tells of its violent and unsuccessful attempts to find territory in southern Palestine and its eventual migration to the far north . . . Gad, a Transjordanian tribe, would be constantly exposed to Bedouin raids. Asher’s prosperity in the north would have resulted from trade with the Phoenicians, though no doubt it also shared some of Zebulun’s discomfiture from the same quarter. Naphtali’s blessing seems to be a simple notice of its independent character as a mountain tribe in Galilee. The large space given to the prophecies about Judah and Joseph (that is, Manasseh and Ephraim together) accurately represents the dominance of these two tribal groups in the Judges period and in the following monarchical period, when they supplied the nuclei of the two Hebrew kingdoms. Joseph’s blessing dwells on its large population and the fertility of central Palestine where this confederation settled, while Judah’s waxes eloquent about its right to staff and sceptre and its glorious, if rather bloody, victories over its enemies, including the other tribes. . . The rendering of verse 10 “until he comes to whom it [the sceptre] belongs” is based on the ancient Greek version. It has a distinct messianic ring to it, and this verse was in fact often treated as a hidden prophecy of Christ by the early Church, which used the Septuagint. . . Benjamin was a small but important tribe in later times and gave the new nation its first king in Saul. It had a reputation for warlike fierceness (see 1 Chr. 8:40; 12:1–2), and it is this which is celebrated in its blessing.”[1]

 

There is only one thing to mention about all of this and that of all the blessings of Jacob, Judah would receive the true blessing. For from Judah would come the Messiah, as Gibson notes.  Even though Jacob chose Joseph, God chose Judah and there was nothing Jacob could do about that.  This is because true blessing comes from God and not from man.  You cannot go to a clergyman and receive a blessing.   Certainly he can pray for you and ask that God will bless you but it is God alone who blesses and withholds blessing.  None of these things are found in the power of man.  Jacob, as a young man, seemed to believe that the blessing lay in the hands and thoughts of his father so he concocted a plan to deceive him into thinking that he was his elder brother Esau in order to steal the blessing.  The reality is that Isaac could not have given the blessing to Esau because the power to give the blessing did not come from Isaac but from God.  Had Jacob simply acted in honor and in integrity, he would have received the blessing and he would not have had to spend so many years in running and in the wilderness.  He would not have had to fear his brother’s wrath and he would have never had to suffer the wound in his hip. In short, his life would been a lot better off had he simply trusted in God’s promise given before he was born. While it is easy to condemn Jacob for this, it is true that most of us make the same mistakes all the time.  We have the benefit from learning from Jacob’s mistakes, so hopefully we’ll be careful not to repeat them.

 

So here we are at the end of this masterpiece we call Genesis – perhaps a book that has been read by more people than any other in the history of the world.  The sons of Jacob have now had the opportunity to draw no generations of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and their father Jacob.  They have been brought out of famine and into abundance.  They have all received a promise from God that their families would each grow into powerful clans and that their lines were secure.    After Jacob passed, it occurred to them that perhaps Joseph allowed them to live on account of their father.   So what did they do when their father died? As some might say when one generation repeats the mistakes of the former . . . “and the beat goes on.” They did the same thing that their great-grandfather, grandfather and father did when they found themselves between a rock and a hard place . . . they turned to deception to save themselves from what they perceived as their inevitable demise. “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “’what if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’ so they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘your father left these instructions before he died: This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:15-17).  The brothers did not get the lessons that were learned by their fathers.  As we have discussed before, every generation must learn its own lessons, yet the real student of God will not have to learn again what others had to learn the hard way.  Joseph seemed to have learned the lessons and it was time for him to teach his brothers, and us, a lesson that will spare each of us the deepest of pain, “Don’t be afraid, Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21).

 

So what will it be for you? Will you trust God in the midst of the unknown of our life?  One of the most important lessons of Genesis is that our own attempts to manipulate others as well as events in order to preserve ourselves are a terrible waste of time that will create bigger problems than it will solve.  God calls us to simply trust him in the good and the bad for he has a plan and that plan will be carried out with perfection.  I pray that we would all learn to live peacefully and joyfully under the covering of God’s sure promises.  If you want to experience life in this relationship, it begins with trusting in Jesus, the lion of Judah who remains forever as King.  This King descended from his throne, took upon humanity and paid for the sins of us all.  Trust Christ today and experience a life underneath the shelter of his gentle, powerful wings.


[1]Gibson, John C.L.: Genesis : Volume 2. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1981 (The Daily Study Bible Series), S. 312


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