|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 3 - The God who is
“ In the Lord I take refuge ” (Psalm 11:1)
3.1 Our Use of the Bible in this Book
If you listen to voices in the world, and even voices in the church at times, you hear some strange things being said about God. You hear words about a harsh, unkind God. You hear words writing off the Old Testament. For some, truth only starts with the pages of Matthew's Gospel, and the God of love only appears in the life of Jesus. Isn't the Old Testament full of words about judgement, some ask? That doesn't seem very much about security, they say, more about fear. Let's eyeball some of these strange thoughts!
Before we go on, it might be helpful for you to know where I come from in all of this (in case you haven't picked it up from the main parts of the site). Many years ago when my three children were very small, as good traditional Christian parents, my wife and I wanted to teach our children to have their own daily experience of God through daily Bible readings and prayer. We were using various Bible study notes for children available from the local Christian bookshop but our four year old and six year old were not excited.
Out of desperation one month, I started writing simple notes for my children and produced a month's worth of verse by verse Bible Study notes that children could cope with. At the end of the month recognising the task I had set myself I tried to put the two children off and suggested we return to the “proper notes”. The children would have nothing of it, and so I embarked on a course of action that has carried on ever since, writing verse by verse notes for daily study purposes. After a while the notes developed to notes for adults and so I have been studying and writing notes for over thirty years, now covering the vast majority of the Bible. Hence the ReadBibleAlive site.
3.2 How you approach the Bible affects your Security
It may be that for you, so far in life, the Bible has not grabbed you. I want to assure you on the basis of the last twenty years, that when you take time to read and study it, verse by verse with God's help, it is the most exciting book you can read – but it does take time and effort! In 1967 J.B.Phillips wrote “Ring of Truth” based on the feeling he had as he worked on the New Testament translation. As he translated the New Testament, it had a ring of truth about it, was what he ended up saying.
Similarly, I would say that the more you read the Old Testament, the more you realise there is a ring of truth, or a ring of authenticity about the writings. These things happened! These things are about real people! These things are about a real God!
Every now and then TV produces a programme about the archaeology of the Bible, or the authenticity of the stories of the Bible. It is almost as if the unbelieving world is desperately searching for something to believe in. Through the centuries, millions of Christians have testified that understanding came after belief. Approach the Bible with skepticism and you'll remain blind. Approach it with an open heart and suddenly you start realising what you are reading. It's simply what millions before us have realised, that the Bible is a spiritual book and it needs God's help, to read and understand it.
In what follows, I am going to constantly refer to the Bible accounts and I would encourage you to read it yourself and confirm everything I say. When it comes to understanding the Bible, it is the same as when you consider the whole matter of security. Security and understanding both come out of a relationship with God. The truth is that if you have no relationship with God, you will not understand the Bible and you will not feel secure. Without a relationship with God, all you are left with are warnings of judgement, and a difficult book to understand!
The book of Nahum provides a good illustration of this. This is a series of warnings of judgement against Nineveh, yet in 1:7 we find a contrast with the warnings: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him”. Here is the crucial point in the Old Testament, that God is a refuge for those who trust in Him. He can't be a refuge for those who ignore Him, but for those who trust in Him, He is a place of real security. I'll try and show you some of the aspects of this security that we find throughout the Bible.
3.3 Our Strategy in this Part using the Bible
Starting with Moses...
To start with, in this chapter, we'll look at God's encounter with Moses in the early part of the book of Exodus and see some of the amazing things we can learn about God through that encounter. Having seen some of the things God discloses about Himself, in the next two chapters we'll see what we can learn about Him through His ultimate disclosure through His Son, Jesus Christ.
...then old Testament Main Characters
When we've done that we'll go back and look at some of the first individuals in the book of Genesis who had a relationship with God, and then other Old Testament individuals and Israel as a nation, and then, finally, at particular parts of the Old Testament that speak to us about the subject of security. We'll then go back and take a fresh look at the New Testament. You'll have seen this approach in the contents of Part 2 shown at the top of the page.
Insecure People who were Secure
When we start looking at individuals in the Old Testament, what we so often find is the story of an insecure person (more often than not, a man) who eventually comes to see that he is secure - because of God. The story of the Old Testament is about men (and a nation) who were contacted by THE God, and who came to realise that because of this God they were secure.
Starting with Moses
To understand something of the significance of the people we will be considering, we need to start in Exodus, chapter 3, at the account of Moses meeting with God at the burning bush. In each of the things in this story, we will find out things about God. It is the history of a man who had got it wrong, but a man who God took and miraculously used to deliver His people. If you've never read it, Exodus 1-12 is worth a careful read.
3.4 The God of Self Disclosure – God of communication (Exodus 3:2)
It may appear obvious but it needs stating: at the burning bush it is God who takes the initiative and who approaches Moses, not the other way round. God is a God who comes and reveals himself to mankind. Throughout the Bible we find it is God who approaches people – which is quite contrary to the popular misconception that we go seeking God. In every case of a human history recorded in the Old Testament, it is God who makes contact first, God who takes the initiative. So let's see Him as He makes contact with Moses.
Moses is minding his own business. He is looking after sheep, and God uses the burning bush to catch his attention. Why didn't God just speak to him as he walked along or sat guarding the sheep? We're not told. All we know is that often in our experience God calls and waits to see if we will respond. My own belief is that God speaks to every single human being who exists, but most of us are too wrapped up in ourselves to take any notice.
For you, the title of this book caught your attention and you turned to it and are reading it. Others saw the title and ignored it. But the truth is that God wants to be known by those whose hearts are searching. Much of the time we're not even aware that we're searching. Then the call of God comes and we stop what we're doing and go over to see what it's about. You're doing that right now, this minute.
When we consider Moses, the man that God called, we find a number of interesting characteristics.
A Man Separated from his History
First, Moses was a man who had lost his history. He was a Hebrew in exile, a man who had lost his heritage, and has been living in a foreign land looking after sheep for forty years! (To see this, read Exodus 1 & 2) Moses' history had been as part of a family that knew God and had stories of how God had moved in their history, but now all that was gone, a past dream almost!
For many of us we can either look back on days that were more glorious than they are now and feel we've lost something, or we sense we've never quite got to what we should be. Some of us have known great things in our younger days, but they seem just a faint memory now, tinged with a longing. Some of us had dreams that never quite arrived and there is a shadow of disillusionment in our background. There is history to be reclaimed. Moses has lost his history, and God takes the initiative to reconnect him with his history.
A Man who was a Failure
Second, Moses was a failure, a failed deliverer. It had all gone wrong and that meant exile for forty years. Instead of being a Prince in Egypt, he was a lowly shepherd in the wilderness! Moses had had great hopes for his family and for his people, but when he reached out his hand to try to bring it into being, it all went drastically wrong. The years had perhaps dulled the memory but the sense of failure never seems to go away.
Many of us live with the shadow of past failure hanging over our lives and we try to forget it, or even perhaps try to compensate for it in some way. For some of us the result is that we no longer reach out in faith; it's easier and less risky not to. We've been there, done it and got the tee-shirt but now it's hidden away in some bottom drawer forgotten. It's safer not to hope too much, expect too much! Moses was a failure but now God takes the initiative to lead him to achieve mighty things, in a new and supernatural way – despite his age!
A Man directed by Circumstances
Third, Moses was a circumstantial shepherd. He was only a shepherd because the circumstances had gone wrong and he was doing what he was doing because there seemed nothing else to do. Abraham might have had a great sense of destiny with frequent words of prophecy coming, but for Moses in the wilderness, sheep don't make good prophets! He's here because of the circumstances not because of glorious guidance.
Many of us live lives where we feel we are just doing stuff because that's just how it's panned out, not because we have any sense of purpose over our lives. Many of us don't have a glorious sense of being where we are because of the amazing guidance of God. No, we feel we are where we are because of the things that happened, and where we are at the moment we can't see the hand of God in it all!
And what makes it worse is that when you are feeling you are a prisoner to the circumstances, you feel you'll be in that place for the rest of your life. God hasn't turned up yet, so why should he turn up tomorrow. The funny thing is that the appearance of God on our case isn't usually heralded by trumpets! Moses was ruled by the circumstances and now God takes the initiative to make him a man who directs the circumstances and brings dramatic change.
An Old Man
Fourth, Moses was an old man. For forty years he had been a Prince of Egypt, and then he threw it all away. For forty years he had looked after sheep. The past is dead and buried. Hope has died. There is no future – except in the wilderness. He's actually past the “three score years and ten” and so humanly speaking he must be getting ready to collect his pension (if they'd had such things!). If anything is going to change in this world, it's going to have to be by a younger person, I'm just counting days to heaven!
That's how it is for many of us. We've blown it. It all went wrong. Dreams were dashed. Hope died. We feel it is too late now. We've missed it. We're feeling old. We may be feeling weak and infirm and we look to ‘the young people' to do God's stuff. We've forgotten that the Psalmist offered the hope of fruitfulness right the way through old age (Psa 92:12-15). So here is Moses, an old man without hope, and suddenly God takes the initiative to raise up a new life, guided and directed by God and empowered by God in such a way that the world will never be the same again.
This is the first thing that the story of Moses tells us: God is a God who comes to people who have lost their past potential, to people who have blown it, to people blown along by the circumstances, people who have lost hope, and He reveals Himself as the One who has seen it all, heard it all, and now comes down to change it all (Ex 3:7,8).
And you thought God wasn't interested in failures?
3.5 The Identifiable God – Understandable (Ex 3:6)
Names are Important
If the first point in the Moses story was obvious, the second is even more obvious. God communicates with us through names. Names in the Bible were very important. They told you something about the person, or about the hopes of his parents for him.
Some names describe character, such as Nabal in 1 Sam 25:25, which means ‘folly'. How prophetic of his parents to call him a name which would ultimately be the cause of his death (or was it a case of self-fulfilling prophecy?)
Some names described appearance. For instance Esau simply meant ‘red'. Some names describe activity. Satan means 'adversary'. Some names were given to indicate a change in future destiny. Abram meant 'exalted father', or honourable head of the family, whereas Abraham meant 'father of a multitude' (given while he was still childless, but believing for a family). Jacob meant 'cheat' or twister, and then Israel meant 'prince with God'. In the New Testament Simon meant a 'stone', whereas Peter meant a 'rock'.
Names of God
Now the voice that speaks to Moses identifies Himself as “God”. Readers in the West may take this for granted. Others from some Third World cultures might find this startling. They might expect to be spoken to by “the spirits”. The Hebrew word for God is “ El ”, meaning one who is an object of worship. Usually it was linked to another name,
However, the word that is used most often comes, interestingly, in the plural, and is Elohim . To say it is plural is not so much to say it referred to “gods” but that the One God spoke as the Queen of England might speak and refer to “we”. With the insight of the New Testament perhaps we catch an echo of the concept of the Trinity.
Names reveal Relationship
But whatever else the names of God might tell us, they tell us that God wants our contact with Him to be personal. People in business are taught to use the names of their customers whenever they can. Why? Because we like hearing our name being used because it indicates a measure of familiarity, and the business knows that familiarity suggest closeness or trust. More often than not, when we use a person's name it is an indication of our concern for them, our desire for closeness. Thus when God identifies Himself by name, He is saying I want a relationship with you. I want to know you and be known by you. He's going to tell us a lot about Himself shortly.
When God communicates with Moses, He calls him by name. In doing this He is saying, “I know who you are.” Centuries later God was to say to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” You can't say it more clearly: I know everything there is to know about you. This is the God with whom we deal, One who knows everything there is to know about us, yet who desires to be personal, to come close and share!
Understanding this, brings death to the thinking that says, “God doesn't care about me. God doesn't know about me. If I want God to take an interest in me I'm going to have to be good, I'm going to have to be religious.” No, this story tells us that God is there and He communicates in such a manner that we have understanding – in some measure at least. This God is there and He comes near and communicates with us about Himself. Amazing!
And you thought God was afar off and didn't want to draw near to you?
3.6 The Eternal God – beyond us (Ex 3:13,14)
So using a person's name indicates a desire for closeness. God speaks to this shepherd and calls him by name (Ex 3:4). As we've just seen the very next thing He does is to start communicating with Moses by explaining who it is who is speaking to him, and He does it by the use of names (Ex 3:6).
God who is "I AM"
Before we start examining the names by which He identifies Himself, we need to jump on to verse 14 where He says, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (or “I will be what I will be”). The note at the bottom of the page in your Bible will probably tell you that the Hebrew for the word printed with capital letters, LORD, in your Bible sounds like and is derived from the Hebrew for “I am”. Thus wherever you see God described in your Bible as the LORD, really what you are reading is “the I Am”.
So what does “I am” signify? It has at least three implications. First of all, let's think about it this way: one of the problems we suffer from a human beings is other people trying to change us to be more what they want us to be. In defence we might say, “Look, I'm just me, take me as I am!” or “I'm just me! What you see is what you get!” or even “I am who I am!”
I AM = Independence
A teenager looking for their own individuality might say about their future, “I'll be what I'll be, not what you want me to be!” “I am who I am” is first a statement of independence – “I'm not reliant on anyone else, I am me so don't try to change me, just accept me as I am!” In other words the declaration, “I am” is a declaration of independence. It is like God saying, “Take me just as I am, don't try and conform me to what you would like of a deity!”
I AM = Sovereign
Second, it is interesting to note that God never explains Himself. There is in this a sense of sovereignty. He might have said, “I am God! I don't need to explain myself to anyone. I just am!” If we study the Bible to see all the things it tells us about God, we find it indicates that He is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (anywhere and everywhere) and omniscient (all knowing). In other words there is no other being in our existence who can match these descriptions. More than that there is no limit to His knowledge, His wisdom, His understanding or His power. No human being can be compared in any way.
I AM = Unchanging
But there is yet a further implication: when God says, “I am”, because of who He is, He can always say that, “I am.” So if time travel was possible and we were able to travel back a million years, God would be there, exactly the same as today. If we travelled a million years into the future, he would be there, identical. If we travelled a million light years through space, we would find Him there – exactly the same. Wherever we went and whenever we went, He is there! The same!
I AM = Holy, Different!
Now, if we put all these things together what does this tell us about God? It tells us that He is utterly different from anyone or anything else we know. It is this difference we refer to when we speak of His holiness, His utterly different-ness! His perfection, His completion; this is holiness.
But what does this say about our everyday experience and God?
His omnipotence means that because He is all-powerful, He is totally in control (and that has implications that we'll touch on in a later chapter).
Because He is omnipresent, there is nowhere that we can go where He is not. This means that there is no difficult circumstance, where He will not be.
Because He is omniscient, it means that there is nothing about me that I can hide from Him. He knows my past, my present, my future, my thoughts, my feelings, my hopes, my dreams, my disappointments, and my fears – and despite this, He loves me!
All of this aspect of God is really beyond me! I cannot understand His greatness, I cannot understand His incredible love that just keeps on and on and on. However, a friend once said to me, “You know, the things I do understand about God in the Bible help me to simply accept the things I cannot understand about Him!” This God, who is beyond my understanding, is there for us!
And you thought you were alone in the world?
3.7 God who has History
God has History
In Ex 3:6 God identifies Himself to Moses as “the God of your father”, which reminds him that he is a Hebrew, part of a family that has history with God. Moses needed to hear that because for forty years he was far away from his own history. Then God described Himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” We'll have a look at each of them later so we won't look at the significance of all that for the moment. In verse 13 Moses anticipates identifying God to his people as the “God of your fathers” and indeed the Lord Himself uses the phrase, “the God of the Hebrews” (v.18).
For Moses, all this said that this God is the God of our history – we know about Him, He's had dealings with our ancestors. For Jews and Christians, our knowledge of the Lord comes from His encounters with people throughout the Old Testament period.
We have History with God
In Christian circles we hold much store in a person's “testimony”, their story of their encounter with God. The further you go in this book, the more you will find me sharing things that have happened to me, encounters with God for a period in excess of thirty five years. God is a God of history and part of our security comes from looking back over that history to see the wonder of what God has done.
ReadBibleAlive website exists because of the amazing awareness I found growing in me of God's goodness to me over the years, particularly in the realm of Bible reading. Yet it is far more than that, for I have been seeing completely afresh, just how wonderful God has been to me and to my family. This doesn't make us wonderful, far from it, but it highlights God's goodness and His faithfulness – a God who does not change throughout history, including our history. We may fail, we may want to give up, we may fall, but the one thing that looking back over history tells us, is that God is utterly dependable, faithful, unchanging, there for us.
And you thought history was boring?
3.8 And So?
There is so much more we could look at in respect of Moses for his story with God takes up a lot of the first five books of the Bible, but for the moment let's just recap what we've considered in this chapter:
Bible Based: our understanding of God and His dealings with us come through the Bible. If you wish to see more of why we can trust the Bible, then you need to go to our sister site – www.rochfordcc.co.uk and look in the extensive Resources section there. You can trust what you read in the Bible.
Revelation of God: In our consideration of God who encounters Moses at the burning bush we see that He is:
Everything about this says that God is not distant but comes to draw near to us, to enter into relationship with us. The height of that revelation of Himself comes through His Son, Jesus Christ, and it is to him we will turn in the next chapter.
For the moment, though, consider this: if God has given us the Scriptures that show us so much of His desire to know us and relate to us, surely we can feel secure in this intention, for every record reveals that He comes to bless us.