|Series Theme: Studies in Exodus|
Part 1: Background
Meditations in Exodus: 1. Circumstances
Ex 1:5-7 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.
Exodus has never before seemed to me to be a fruitful field for mediation but its seems to call and especially with the question, what can I learn from what I read? This obviously should always be the background question that must follow in study of the Bible after finding out first what the original writers sought to convey, else that study simply remains an intellectual exercise. But God's word is here to teach us, challenge us and train us (see 2 Tim 3:16).
The account starts out by reminding us who were the sons of Israel who now found themselves in Egypt with old man Israel : eleven sons, Joseph already being there (1:1-5), seventy (or 75 according to the footnote) in all. They had come because of a famine that covered the whole of the area. Very clearly, in hindsight at least, God had used Joseph to become the bringer of wisdom to the king of Egypt , both foretelling the coming years of good then bad, and how to deal with the seven years of famine that would come. It is a complex story and one which had its origins right back with grandfather Abram being given the revelation by God of what would happen: “ Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14). It is also a story of mystery.
Now why do I say that? Well, the question has to arise in the thoughtful person, did God simply know that in the workings of this fallen world a famine would occur in the not too distant future or did He purposefully bring it? Knowing it was coming, could He not have prevented it? Knowing it was coming, did He have to allow Joseph to go through years of slavery and imprisonment before being brought into Pharaoh's court with divine knowledge and wisdom to help him? Knowing that Israel and his family would end up in Egypt could He not have told them to go back home after the famine was past so they did not end up in a disadvantageous position in the centuries to come? All good and valid questions!
Well there was a clue given two verses on: “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) Much, much later on in the story the Lord reveals that He has a threefold purpose that will be revealed nearer the end of the story and it is well to keep these things in mind throughout:
1. To bring judgment on Egypt for all their superstitious and occult-based idol worship and the intransigent pride of the Pharaoh who will be ruling in some four hundred years time,
2. To being judgment on the Canaanites (‘Amorites' is shorthand for the Canaanite mixed peoples) who will become another general people-group who will have degenerated into pagan occult idol worship of the most terrible kind, and
3. To provide Israel with a home of their own, in a manner they will never forget and which will reveal amazing things about God.
Now of course all these thing become clear only in retrospect. How much of it all was simply the outworkings of a broken, fallen world, and the sinful goings on of people, and how much of it was the purposeful working of God we can never know. It is clear from Scripture that God works through His knowledge of what people will do and how they will respond, and so He will intervene in ways that help direct, guide or change the affairs of men. He never seems to make men and women respond in the ways they do but He clearly knows how they will respond in given circumstances.
So what do these ponderings on the early affairs of life of Israel teach us? Well first of all that the circumstances that we find ourselves in are a combination of:
Does that leave a sense of lost-ness, for that is what a lot of people do genuinely feel deep down, and that is quite understandable. If we do not believe in God, then life is just a random jumble. We may believe in God but a God who keeps things close to His chest and we are left in the dark. But that isn't how it is supposed to be with Christians for the New Testament gives us a sense that there IS purpose and direction to our lives.
For example, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world…. he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment.”( Eph 1:4,9,10) Then a little later on, “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Whatever else those verses say, they indicate God has plans and purposes and we are part of them.
So, is this world a mess of random and shamble-like circumstances. A mess? Yes, it seems like that sometimes. Random? Well not really but we've seen how various things interact with one another. Shamble-like? Well it may seem like that sometimes but we need to remind ourselves of some fundamental truths: “Jesus said…, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (Jn 5:17) and “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) God does not sit around doing nothing. He has plans and purposes and He is constantly working on them and however we are involved He is working to bring good into our lives – in all things!
How much Israel was aware of being in God's purposes we can't be fully sure but there are certainly some things He was clear about and we'll pick them up in the next study.
Meditations in Exodus: 2. Time Passes
Ex 1:6,7 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.
Over the first eight verses of this book over 400 years pass. It starts out with Jacob and his family and moves on to a time when the people had multiplied, families had grown and grown and over four hundred years some suggest they had multiplied to over a million people. Others suggest much smaller numbers but I am less inclined to believe small numbers simply because the current Pharaoh would not have seen the small numbers as a threat and acted as it did. No, his response indicates a big threat!
Now the danger with the passing of a long time, and four hundred years is quite a long time, is that it would have been quite possible for this family to have been assimilated into the Egyptian population. They could have married into Egyptian families and basically become Egyptians – but they didn't! They clearly remained Hebrews.
But why? Look at immigrants to the USA and although they may be proud of their heritage they are first and foremost Americans. In fact they are proud of becoming American citizens. Centuries later than this time Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity in Babylon and the Babylonians did everything they could to assimilate them into their culture, but they failed. What was it about the Hebrews that kept them Hebrews? God and the Land. A little while back we did a series called ‘Focusing Faith' and in the 17th study we considered Jacob in ‘Holding to the Plan' and noted “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” (Heb 11:22) We noted in Gen 47:29,30 Jacob giving those instructions because he had gone on to explain that God has promised their descendants the Land (Gen 48:3,4) Joseph subsequently also instructed his family to take his bones back to the Land (Gen 50:24,25) and so Moses later took his bones back during the Exodus (Ex 13:19) and Joshua later buried them in the Land (Josh 24:32). It was all because of what God had promised and the thought of one day returning to the Land, I suggest, that helped keep them as a distinct people, despite the passing of time.
Now, as we read on, we see something else about this passing of time: “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.” (v.8) Joseph had been all-powerful, without doubt the Saviour of the nation and indeed the whole of the Middle East , but still second to Pharaoh. Old man Jacob had been respected and honoured and subsequently his family with him – but now time has passed. Respect can get lost with the passing of years and, in fact, with the passing of four hundred years memory fades and gives way to present circumstances.
It was the present state of the respective peoples that now gave cause for the next change to come about. So far Israel, the growing family-cum-nation, had been content to stay there and flourish but therein lay the problem: “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. "Look," he said to his people, "the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” (v.8-10) Isn't it strange how national insecurities can bring about negative behaviour. All the present king knew was that there was this distinct people group within his nation who were different from his people and who seemed to relish their difference, which meant they might not remain loyal to Egypt if Egypt ever had a conflict with a neighbour. Thus comes a downturn in the affairs of the people called Israel .
Time in the Bible sometimes gives rise to questions. There was this four hundred year period where the Lord had been silent while Israel grew in Egypt . From His words in Gen 15:16 that we considered in the previous study, He was waiting and allowing the sins of Egypt and Canaan to grow to a point where action was necessary. That may explain this period, but then there is the four hundred year period of silence between the end of what we now call the Old Testament and the beginning of the activities of the New. We are given no reason and there appears no obvious reason for this apart from, perhaps, the Lord allowing time to pass so that circumstances change and develop to become more favourable for the coming of the Messiah. Then there is the half hour silence in heaven in Rev 8:1; why was that? We are not told but it follows the opening of the final seal of the end time document and so perhaps it was a time to pause and consider the enormity of what was just about to happen.
Often time has to pass in Scripture to allow hidden things to change and grow. The case of Jesus illustrates this. He started his ministry about the age of thirty but apart from a fairly brief incident when he was twelve, we hear nothing of him between the Nativity accounts and the start of his ministry. When you read the book of Judges, it is like the writer is painting with big brush strokes and so we just hear that a big block of years passes to allow Israel to come to their senses under enemy oppression and to call on the Lord. Long period after long period. Go further back and observe that early men and women seemed to live much longer lives and so we see very long periods being mentioned with very little happening. Time is sometimes indistinct, such as in the end times seen in the book of Revelation. We really have no idea how what length of time passes for each of the events recorded there. In the Gospels time is charted often by the annual feasts held in Jerusalem . In many and different ways we are faced with time throughout the Bible.
Pondering on these early verses of Exodus one thing is clear: we cannot guess what is coming. If Israel had realised what was about to happen to them, being made into slaves, they may well have returned to their previous land a lot earlier. But something else comes out of this – the Lord knows what is going to happen and He knows therefore when it is going to get difficult for His people yet He allows it. Why? Because of the bigger purpose. As we said earlier, He is waiting for the sins of Egypt and of Canaan to grow to a point when action is required. He knows the Pharaoh will be hard hearted and enable a perfect opportunity for God's power and mercy to be revealed. He has to allow Israel to become slaves for their comfort zone, living and prospering in Egypt , to be removed. It may also be that as the Lord looked into the future He knew there will come a man who will be the almost perfect shepherd to lead His people out of Egypt , a shepherd who will be named Moses. The passing of time allows a lot of things to change, things that will interact to enable the plans and purposes of God to be worked out. Waiting demands patience. Sometimes we are called upon to be impatient with imperfect circumstances. Now there is a whole area for home work. Ponder on those two things.
Meditations in Exodus: 3. Can God bless you in slavery
Ex 1:12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread;
We have already commented that obviously the Lord felt He had to leave Israel to grow in Egypt and would have known that their growth would be perceived as a threat to the latest Pharaoh, resulting in slavery. It raises the question, why doesn't God intervene in the affairs of His children to save them. Well, the answer is that He does – sometimes. While he allowed James the brother of John to be put to death by Herod (Acts 12:2) he had Peter delivered from prison by angelic means (Acts 12:6-10) Now the bigger truth is that of the eleven remaining apostles only one of them, we are told, did not die violently for his faith, the apostle John who died of old age.
Slavery also played a part in the life of Joseph in Genesis. He was taken by his brothers and was sold into slavery (Gen 37:28) where he was subsequently sold on (Gen 37:36) but then we find a remarkable testimony: “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” (Gen 39:2-6) This is a most amazing testimony. Joseph prospers – in slavery – because God is with him.
Now we come to Israel in Egypt and it seems every day life gets harder and harder as Pharaoh seeks to put pressure on them and subdue them as slaves and yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; They are ‘prospering' because they are God's people so it doesn't matter whether they are in slavery or not, He will bless them because He has plans for them.
Now what does the Bible teach about slavery? First of all slavery seems to have existed in this fallen world from early on. Abraham encountered a local king who had slave girls (Gen 20:17). The truth is that Abram also had slaves, because that was what Hagar was considered (Gen 21:10). It is quite clear therefore, that in those early years slavery was a well established world practice. It was an expression of oppression by powerful people over less-powerful people, an expression of sin in the world, and a well-established practice that sinful men were not likely to give up easily (and this needs to be born in mind in the light of comments about the Bible not saying anything about abolition).
When we later come to the Law of Moses, it is as if God recognises that there will be slaves and so rather than seeking to abolish them (for the world as a whole was not yet ready for that) He sets down guide lines to care of them! For example over zealous slave owners were to be punished (Ex 21:20, the slave was to be granted a day's rest on the Sabbath (Ex 23:12), a slave girl was to be protected from powerful men (Lev 19:20). The biggest challenge was that Israelites were not to work as slaves but as hired workers, and were eventually to be released back home, and not sold as slaves (Lev 25:39-43). Moreover Israel could become a refuge for fleeing slaves, who could join Israel and become one with them. (Deut 23:15,16) Thus if we look carefully, we find that the Law given to Moses regulated what was an existing practice in the world and forbade Israelites to be slaves, allowed them to accept slaves from other countries but to treat them well. A slave fleeing to them was to be given refuge. Contrary to much that is spoken about slavery in the Old Testament, there is a caring and concerned element in the Law that helped slaves coming from the world. In the New Testament this same caring was continued (see Col 4:1 and Eph 6:8,9)
Why was the Law not seeking to abolish slavery? I suggest t he Lord knew that there would be, at a specific time later in history, a time when world slavery (because it was common) would rise up in some of the leading nations in the world where there was a Christian influence, and after a period of acceptance (yes, even by many Christians), there would rise up among a number of those Christians a conscience that would work and work until slavery was abolished. Tragically, although that is the accepted law across most nations, we are told that the truth is that there is as much slavery across the world today as there was at the time when slaves were being shipped across the Atlantic to America . If you are looking for a Christian organisation to support, we can only recommend you look out for those who are working against this terrible abuse of mankind.
Why, we might ask, did the Lord not act earlier than He did in respect of saving Israel ? Well, one of the main things that has stood out to me as I have studied these early books of the Bible that cover the bringing about of this people as a nation, is that they were incredibly self-willed and time and time again during the process of deliverance they grumbled against God. This is not to say they were any the worse that any other people for I believe they simply reveal, as under a microscope, the sinfulness of mankind and, if you like, the reality of Sin in the human being. Bearing in mind that the Lord wanted to use them to discipline Egypt and then Canaan, it is highly unlikely that in their early years in Egypt they would have participated with and accepted Him. I suspect they had to get to a point of desperation before they would go along with Moses as their deliverer.
Not it is an uncomfortable principle or lesson but the truth is that a) we always opt for the comfortable and easy way and b) we are all of us notoriously slow at understanding God's will and seeing the big picture and our part in it and so c) it so often takes adverse circumstances to change us and deal with that old self-centred and godless way within us that reveals the presence of Sin in us. As Christians we are no longer under the power of Sin but it nevertheless is still a force to be resisted and overcome and without doubt God does use adverse circumstances that just occur in this fallen world to humble us and deal with that self-centred propensity that is expressed as godlessness. As we will see in days ahead, these ‘adverse circumstances' are only for a season and so God, who would prefer we did not have to suffer them, will move as soon as He sees we are ready to change. We should also remind ourselves of what we saw earlier, that even in adverse circumstances God is there to bless His children.
Meditations in Exodus: 4. The Horror of Genocide
Ex 1:22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: "Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile , but let every girl live.
Pharaoh has pressed Israel into slavery and now he takes a further step which is virtual genocide – but not quite. He calls for every baby boy born to the Hebrews to be put to death, not the girls, just the boys. Presumably this is a long-term expedient to weaken Israel in terms of manpower in the years to come. It is silly really, even from a practical point of view because it is going to be many years before it will have effect, but then sin makes us do silly things!
But then of course it grossly exceeds silliness because it is outright barbarism, so much so that it forced itself to my attention as something we should think about and not just quickly pass by. For anyone who thinks the human race is basically ‘good', a quick study of genocide remedies that very quickly. How anyone in their right mind can purposefully seek to wipe out a complete people says a great deal about their state of mind and indeed their who outlook on life
Now there appear to be two stages to what takes place in this situation in Egypt . There appear to be two Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, (v.15) presumably head midwives for there would surely be a greater need than just two. The king instructs them to kill every boy being born (v16) at the moment of its arrival, but the midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. (v.17) When the king questions them (v.18) they say the Hebrew women have their babies too quickly before the midwife arrives (v.19) and the record stands, “So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” (v.20,21) God continues to bless His people and it is then that we read this instruction: “Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you must throw into the Nile , but let every girl live.” (v.22)
Now one wonders why death by this means, why take the babies to the primary source of fertility in their land and pollute it with hundreds of dead bodies, unless there is some ‘religious' significance to this? Now we will see as we go on that Egypt had many ‘gods' and the god of the Nile was Hapi (or Hapy depending on your source) who was a god of fertility but not a particularly important god, because the Egyptians took for granted the annual flooding of the Nile bringing fertile sediment to the land. How much easier it would have been for Pharaoh to appoint a small contingent of executioners to accompany the midwives and execute each young male baby they came across – but he didn't, he required them to throw the babies in the Nile. Years later Herod obviously sent out squads of soldiers to kill every child two years and under, in his attempt to destroy baby Jesus (Mt 2:16). It may have been an indication of the location of the Hebrew people, perhaps near the Nile in Goshen , at least along one of the tributaries, or it may have been offering Hapi a sacrifice to encourage his ongoing inundation of the Nile every year. A mystery, but mystery or not, a horror!
It is too easy to pass by this sort of thing. Wikipedia states “ The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) defines genocide in part as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group ” We are probably all aware of the Holocaust killing between 6 and 11 million Jews in Hitler's desire to completely exterminate them, but in the 20 th century probably few of us are aware that 75% of Armenians in Turkey were killed between 1915 and 1916, probably somewhere between 800,000 to 1,800,000. We're probably also not aware of approximately 275,000 Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire who were slaughtered during 1915-23, or between 450,000 to 900,000 Greeks massacred by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918, and in Cambodia , a genocide that was carried out by the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot and which killed an estimated one and a half to three million people between 1975 and 1979. Perhaps we have forgotten the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that killed between 500,000 and a million people, and so the list goes on and on – within the last century!
If these seem further afield geographically, consider the Dresden bombings by the Allies in the Second World War, where casualties were thought to possibly exceed 100,000. The bombing of Coventry in similar style was, thankfully, puny by comparison with a little over a thousand. In each case the desire to wipe out industry also meant the deaths of men, women and children. These then stand alongside the up to a 145,000 killed in Hiroshima and up to 80,000 in Nagasaki . Now in each case of the four destructions in this paragraph the intent was not to expressly wipe out a people but to reduce the length of war, and thus they may be almost excused as not being genocide – but they were still mass killings by the human race on the human race.
The unscholarly atheist critics of the destruction of Canaan often use the word genocide but that is a gross distortion of the truth. Taking all the instructions in the Pentateuch to Israel as to how they should go about taking the land, the vast majority of references are to ‘driving out' the inhabitants and only a very few to destroying them. Although there are instances of men, women and children being destroyed in the Old Testament, the instructions in respect of Canaan were not one of them.
The reality is that there are judgments in the Bible (not as many as some might like to think) where a people are wiped out – the Flood being one of them, but in those rare instances the conclusion has to be drawn that that degenerate state of that people destroyed was so bad it was more of a surgical judgment than anything else, to prevent it getting any worse and destroying the earth completely. Examinations of such people reveal things like child sacrifice and worse and we would be remiss if we failed to note that in primitive times (as in modern times!!!!) there was often no stopping killing and differentiating between men, women or children in war battles.
To conclude, we should probably also note that where Israel were involved, actions against other people were almost invariably cases of defence and fighting for survival. The Holocaust was not the first attempt at wiping out the Jews. The whole point of the book of Esther, is about the survival of the people of Israel under foreign rulers where the intent was to entirely wipe them out. One should wonder at the hostility that has been raised against the people of Israel through the centuries and recognise the rebellion of the world against God – and His people. Psa 2 expresses it well.
Is genocide ever acceptable? No! Should the voice of the world be raised against it wherever it appears? Yes, of course. Why do wars occur? The Sin of a Fallen World. Is killing in war ever justified? Justified is an inappropriate word. If it is a case of fighting to defend and survive, and fighting involves killing, where evil rises up, the lesser evil may be essential to prevent the greater evil spreading. Israel in Egypt were not an evil and so Pharaoh's instructions were pure evil.
Meditations in Exodus: 5. A Mother's Wisdom
Ex 2:1,2 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.
There is a question that Christians sometimes ask: do we always have to obey the Government? According to the apostle Peter, “ We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29, 4:19) In the records of Exodus we are about to observe how a very famous man by the name of Moses came to survive as a baby when there was an edict that all Hebrew baby boys were to be thrown into the Nile . In passing it is worth noting he came from the tribe of Levi (Ex 2:1), he was ‘a fine child' (Ex 2:2) and he had an older sister (Ex 2:4).
Now his mother, like almost any other mother, is very reticent (understatement!!!) to throw her baby into the river to die. Her initial reaction is to hold on to him which she does for three months, but her secret is going to come out sometime and whenever it does the child is going to be thrown into the river. What can she do?
It is at this point that wisdom kicks in. It is fairly clear that Pharaoh's daughter made a regular visit to bathe in the Nile and almost certainly she would come with a retinue and the onlooking Israelites would see this happening from a distance. This sets this mother thinking. I hope this doesn't sound patronizing in any way because it is not but have you noticed the response of most women (and a number of men) to the sight of a young baby? Maybe it is the material instinct but there is usually a warm feeling of care. I suspect it is this that this mother is counting on. If she could put her child before this princess, it is possible that once she sees this baby – this ‘fine child' – her heart will be warmed towards him, and who knows what might follow.
And so we come to the famous story of the mother making a basket or a mini-ark that will float and so she puts her son in it and places it among the reeds that bordered the river, just near where the princess usually swam or bathed. The princess comes, the baby is discovered and “she felt sorry for him” (Ex 2:6). Moreover he is crying. Good move Moses; nothing like a hungry anguishing baby to stir the heart. Now the princess recognizes straight away that this is a Hebrew baby, but a baby is a baby! Now what follows is so obvious that the princess must have known what was going on but she has a heart of compassion and the baby is saved. Moses' sister, one of the onlookers from a distance, no doubt a young girl who is not a threat to a royal princess, comes near and asks the princess would she like her to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for her. As I said, it seems all too obvious but the princess goes along with it and Moses is returned to his mother for some while.
We don't know how long and are simply told, “When the child grew older” so it may have been a matter of months or years. Whatever it was, his mother later approaches the princess again, presumably on one of her regular visits to the Nile and offers him to her. She accepts him and that is how Moses came to be raised as a Prince of Egypt.
It is a strange story with lots of question marks over it. Suppose the princess had been hard hearted and the moment she recognized he was a Hebrew just had him thrown in the river? Suppose later she put aside all her early feelings and rejected him so again he might have been destined to die as a child? Well the reality it that neither of these things happened and Moses survived. Was God overseeing it all and simply speaking into the heart of the princess to encourage her to take him? We don't know; it just happened. All we can say is that the events rolled out in accordance with what appears the mother's wisdom. She faced the circumstances and wondered how she could use them for a good end. So how might these things apply to our lives today?
Well, let's generalize the story: the mother was faced with an impossibility. Her child was doomed. There seemed no way out of it. That so often is the starting point; we are confronted with circumstances that seem impossible, we cannot see a way through them. Maybe you are someone who finds themselves pregnant – and you didn't want to be pregnant. There is one obvious path that involves the death of this fetus but you don't like that thought. How will it upset your future life? How can this work out for good? Answer – I don't know but God does and in His books no child is an accident. He will provide – somehow! Maybe we need to ask for grace and wisdom.
It may be more general ‘impossible circumstances' and whatever it is, at the present at least, you cannot see a way through. Those are key words, ‘at the present'. That is why they appear ‘impossible' circumstances. It is not a cliché to say God can give you wisdom – James promised it (Jas 1:3) – and in fact He can give you anything you need to go through whatever it is ahead of you. The apostle Paul proved the reality of this when he wrote, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13) You need strength to see this through? He will provide it. But he went on, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) i.e. because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, all the resources of heaven are now available to us! All of them! Look for that word ‘all' in another of Paul's favourite provision quotes: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) i.e. God is committed to helping you work out whatever it is that confronts you in life. You are Hs child and He IS there for you. Be blessed in that.
Meditations in Exodus: 6. Misplaced Zeal
Ex 2:11,12 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
Forty years have passed and Moses has grown up as a prince of Egypt . Somehow in that time he was obviously taught about his own people, the Hebrews living in Goshen (in the north east corner of Egypt ), and so one day he decided to go to see them, but of course they are slaves with Egyptian overlords. So far this fact had either evaded him, passed him by or simply not impacted him, but now he sees one of the Egyptian slave masters beating one of the Hebrew slaves. Looking around he appears to be on his own and so he intervenes and kills the Egyptian, burying him in the sand.
Now if he had left it at that he might have got away with this but next day he decides to go back and visit them again and we read, “The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known.” (Ex 2:13,14) Clearly what must have happened was that the man he had saved the previous day told others about it. However, they are not impressed by this Hebrew masquerading as an Egyptian prince and so speak roughly to him when he chides the two fighting men. The word is out!
But worse that that, it gets to Pharaoh's ears: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (ex 2:15a) Pharaoh is also not impressed that he is part of the family and does not countenance Moses interfering on behalf of his people. The outcome is obvious, Moses has to flee the country.
So why does he settle in Midian? Well, to the east of Egypt is the Sinai Peninsular and to the east of that, the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba is Arabia , the western side of which is Midian. Over the years the Egyptians had colonized Sinai partly as a protective wedge to the east but partly because copper and turquoise had been discovered in the mountains down the western side of Sinai and it is probable that over the forty years of the first part of his life, Moses would have visited the mines (also being worked by Hebrew slaves) and would be familiar with the country to the east of Goshen. Thus he flees in that direction and keeps going and going traveling up the Gulf of Aqaba and on into Midian where we will see he settled.
But what relevance can all this have to our lives today, for we said at the beginning of this series we would seek to check that out in each study? Well, there is a basic principle here which is very important: don't try doing God's work man's way! It will go wrong! Did God want Israel out of Egypt ? Yes, at the appropriate time. We have seen already that the Lord was going to do it in such a way as to show up the Pharaoh, bring judgment on Egypt and on Canaan , when the sin in those countries had risen to a peak. That will be in another forty years time but Moses doesn't know that yet. He just senses a wrong in what is happening and so intervenes with very negative outcomes.
Could the Lord have put him off going to his people so he wouldn't get into trouble? No doubt but one of my favourite verses from the New Testament is “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Moses may not ‘love' God yet but he will do before he is finished and he is certainly in God's sights to be called in another forty years' time. So what am I saying? I am suggesting that the Lord is using Moses excessive and uninformed zeal to get him to a place where, over the years, he will come to be malleable in God's hands to become the world's greatest human deliverer (apart from Jesus) and one of the most famous names in the Bible.
What is this teaching us? God will not stop our unwise over-zealousness but will use it and use the consequences of it to mould and change us. We may be overly righteous and get slapped by the world for it, but the Lord will use it to humble us. Force is only the answer as the last resort in a defense situation. Otherwise force has no place in our activities. Moreover clever scheming or political activity is also not the way to achieve God's will. Both those things may be used to bring about our will and from that prosperity (as happened in the case of Jacob) but the big changes that God wants to bring about – in you and me – will not come those ways.
We need to be wise here for I have almost overstated the case to make a point. The Lord can give us wisdom which helps us sort out problems and change circumstances in life in our community or nation, which may involve prosperity and success (as in the case of Solomon) and in war circumstances give us victory (as with David) but it is always as HE leads, inspires, guides and directs us. Left to ourselves we are too prone to getting it wrong. You want to do well at work? Seek His wisdom. You want to do well in the community? Seek His wisdom. In all these things His love and goodness will be our underlying principles and when we have success it will be because of His favour (see Joseph in the Old Testament). Not my way, His way! We will see more of this in a later study.
Meditations in Exodus: 7. Life in a Desert
Ex 2:21,22 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, "I have become an alien in a foreign land.”.
Moses is on the run and keeps running until he arrives in the land of Midian and comes to an oasis or, as the text puts it, “he sat down by a well”. (v.15) We then read, “ Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father's flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.” (v.16,17) In these desert regions there are a number of well established traditions. If you live in a desert survival is the name of the game. Your clothing, your tents, your very life style and traditions are designed for survival. For the desert dwellers hospitality is a very high priority as we shall see. Respect and protection for women whose role usually included getting water was well known, which suggests that these ‘shepherds' did not belong to such a traditional grouping in that they bullied these girls. It says something for Moses that he stood up to these shepherds and watered the flock belonging to these girls who were most likely to be in their teenage years.
When they return home with their father's flock, they tell him what had happened at which point his strong sense of hospitality kicks in and he chides them: “When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, "Why have you returned so early today?" They answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock." "And where is he?" he asked his daughters. "Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” (v.18-20) This suggests that it was common for the girls to have trouble getting water and probably usually had to wait until the other shepherds had left.
It is also an indication of the type of men these shepherds were that they had no respect for whose flock these girls were caring for. Everything about Moses indicates he is an Egyptian. He may well have had time to collect together some of his belongings, clothes especially and maybe even took a couple of camels along with him as well. It is also possible that his adoptive mother had helped him and sent him on his way with provisions. I make these points in the light of what soon appears to follow.
Verse 21 is classic brevity: “Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.” Moses was tired of running, Reuel would appreciate male help, help given without much pay no doubt, and the hospitality stretched out. There is a lot about Moses, he is after all a Prince of Egypt, and therefore in Reuel's eyes, and no doubt those of his eldest daughter, he would be a good catch.
He becomes a shepherd (see 3:1) but more significantly, “Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, "I have become an alien in a foreign land.” (v.22) The name Gershom, your footnote will tell you, “sounds like the Hebrew for an alien there.” However the emphasis should be on “a resident alien” or a ‘legally tolerated alien'. This says two things: first, he holds on to his distinctiveness (which may be more about being a Hebrew than about being an Egyptian) and second he is holding on to his identity; these are not necessarily the same things. He is a Hebrew but he is also a Prince of Egypt , shamed and on the run maybe, but nevertheless one who has had royal upbringing. He has not become a Midianite despite their hospitality and despite his marriage.
Time passes by. I wonder what you would be feeling if you were Moses? Initially it might have been, “How stupid I was, but perhaps with the passing of time I'll be able to go back and recover the life I lost.” But then time passes and the more he thinks about it the more he realises he cannot go back; he completely blew it and he will probably forfeit his life if he returns to Egypt . The years pass and memory dulls. He still has anguish when he does think back but it's best to forget it, it's gone, it's past, it was another world but I have a new life to live now. A new life? A shepherd in a desert. Oh, my goodness! The past? A dream. I'm an old man now and old men don't do new things. I'm a shepherd and that's how it will be until I die. I'm a nobody. After say thirty nine years of life in a desert looking after sheep, you have no ambitions, no hopes, no dreams, nothing – except the ability to survive in the dessert, and that isn't the sort of thing that changes the world – is it!
The point I would wish to make here is that forty years in a desert with sheep changes you. It takes away your self-confidence and so when we come to chapter 3 and Moses' ‘conversation' with God, don't be surprised at his negativity, but it is a crucial characteristic for this future leader. In fact I might go as far as to say that it is absolutely vital to any hope of a life with God and doing great things with God.
Yes, think about this more a moment. The only way a person comes to Christ is by giving up on themselves, on realizing they are really needy, realizing they are a failure, a sinner who deserves judgment, realizing they are hopeless and helpless. Until you come to that point you will never surrender to God and allow Him to bring His salvation to you. The work of conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit but so often He will use our personal circumstances to pull us up in life. Possibly one of the greatest examples of this was Chuck Colson, senior member of the White House team serving the President of the United States, a man who had it all but crossed the line, was caught and jailed and who met Christ, but it was only when he was confronted with his failure that he began to face the bigger truth.
We have courses and we have personal trainers and mentors, all boosting our abilities and our ‘self' to make us successful, and that we may become in world's terms, but at the same time lose our soul. A recognition of our limitations and our sinfulness are prerequisites to enter the kingdom of God – and indeed to keep serving Him in His kingdom. To get to the point of “I can't” Moses had to live in a desert for forty years and nobody told him it was boot camp for the greatest job ever detailed in the history of the Bible. He is a man who is going to have to confront the most powerful despot in the Middle East . Put all the dictators of the twentieth century you've heard about and this is the Pharaoh that Moses is to go up against. He's then going to have to lead a bunch of moaning, groaning, grumbling, griping Israelites for the next forty years – and most of it will be in a desert. A where? A desert. Ah! Moses knows about deserts!!!!
Part 2: Encounter with God
Meditations in Exodus: 8. Significant Places
Ex 3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
In a material world places take on significance. First of all places in Scripture identify where God was active or where particular things took place. I am always struck by the plethora of places that Luke uses to identify the location of the heart of the Gospel story: “ In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea , Herod tetrarch of Galilee , his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene -- during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert .” (Lk 3:1,2) All those ‘big names' ruled in well known locations and so Luke well and truly locates the start of the story with these geographic places. Yet in those two verses there is also a hidden message: big names rely upon established locations, fixed places, known lands, and then God comes and moves in the desert, the place of weakness, the place with vague identity, the place no one wants to claim.
And that is where we find Moses, still in the desert. It is interesting to note in passing that Moses' father-in-law's name appears differently. Previously he had been called ‘Reuel' (see 2:18), which means "friend of God." But now he is named, ‘Jethro' which may be a title meaning "his Excellency." When Moses first met him he was simply a man of God. Now, forty years later, there is a maturity which will, in the not too distant future, be used to help Moses. He is a wise and mature leader now. Is that how we develop in Christ through the years?
So forty years have passed (see Acts 7:30 & Ex 7:6) Moses leads his flock constantly looking for new places to pasture them and comes to “the far side of the desert” or the “back side of the desert”. The eastern people focused their compass directions from the east which they faced (perhaps because the sun rises in the east) and so behind them or ‘the back side' would be to the west, so it would appear that Moses traveled westwards back into the Sinai Peninsular where he eventually came to this mountain here identified as ‘Horeb' which, it is thought simply means ‘place in the desert'. Now we know that the Lord said to Moses, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt , you will worship God on this mountain.” (Ex 3:12) and later when Israel arrive back here it is identified as Mount Sinai (see Ex 19:1,10,18,20) In the Sinai Peninsular was the Desert of Sin but the word ‘Sin' here simply refers to a past moon goddess and it is from that that we have the name Sin ai. Although we are uncertain exactly where this mountain is, the fact that it is later identified as Mount Sinai clearly places it somewhere in the Sinai Peninsular.
Further in our starting verse we see this mountain is identified as “the mountain of God ”. Now Moses would not know that when he first arrived there; it simply took on that designation because here he first encountered God and here the people of Israel later encountered God.
So why this mountain, why this place to reveal Himself, why not in Canaan where Israel would eventually settle. Possibly to indicate His separateness, His inaccessibility; that is His starting place, He is a holy God, distinct and separate from anything else, separate from even His Creation. And yet later on – and this separateness makes this even more wonderful – He locates Himself and identifies Himself with this people Israel by having them manufacture a ‘Tabernacle' (big tent) and later on a Temple, both eventually set up in Jerusalem where he indicates He will preside.
It is interesting that many people have special places where they have encountered God, places where there was special revelation perhaps, or a special sense of encounter. I had such a place on a Welsh beach, a place of special encounter that I went back to several times over the years to ‘meet with the Lord'. But of course He dwells with us and so these are merely places of particular encounter. We should never place long term reliance upon such places – perhaps that is why Mount Sinai was so far from Israel . The only person who traveled there purposefully was Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 19:8)
Note also in respect of such places they are the places God chooses to meet with us. Moses had gone there for no particular reason except to feed his sheep and as far as he was concerned this mountain was no different to any other place. That was soon to change. However it is always God's presence that He reveals to us in a particular or special way that makes a particular place special. There is nothing about the place – except Him, except the fact that for that moment He chose to reveal Himself there. After leaving Sinai, traveling, nomadic, local Bedouin would have had no sense of it being special; it was just another mountain. It was only what happened between God and Moses and later God and Israel that made it noteworthy. That is how it is with special places in our lives. Don't given them special powers but hold on to the memories by all means for they form part of the overall testimony of our lives. Hallelujah.
Meditations in Exodus: 9. Attention Getting God
Ex 3:2,3 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."
Have you ever wondered why it happened? I mean, why didn't God just speak to Moses out of the air so to speak where he was standing in the desert? Why the burning bush? I can only speculate because not reason is given in the text but is it because when God catches our attention in such a way, He wants our whole attention and in a sense He wants us to stand still giving Him our whole-hearted attention so that we are more likely to hear and take in what He is saying.
A burning bush would not be such a strange sight but a bush on fire that is not being consumed is something else. It is clearly God's way of catching Moses' attention. Now we have to acknowledge that the accounts in the Bible of God interacting with individuals tends to be limited to key people, people who had significant roles in the ongoing life of Israel and therefore we not put ourselves in the same category, but we will come to that in a moment. We don't know how the Lord originally caught Abram's attention but when we get to Jacob we see He gave him a dream, as he did with Joseph. Solomon later also had a dream as did Joseph in the New Testament. Various individuals had direct encounters with angels, for example Gideon and of course Zechariah and Mary in the New Testament. To say such encounters were attention getting would be an understatement.
When one starts thinking about disciplinary judgements (i.e. ones that bring change of behaviour but not death) we might suggest that every such judgment is an attention getting exercise with the end goal of drawing Israel back to God. This we see again and again in Judges and on various occasions in the other historical books of the Old Testament. When it comes to grabbing the attention of the wider population in the Old Testament period the Lord mostly used prophets, mostly men, a few women, to whom He spoke and who He required to speak to the people. Again, without doubt, attention getting exercises!
In the New Testament, John the Baptist was God's initial primary attention getting exercise followed shortly by the biggest one of all, His Son Jesus. With John the Baptist He used John's words to attract people but with Jesus He went much further and used power and signs and wonders to grab the attention of the crowds. On the Day of Pentecost it seems all that took place was especially designed to be attention grabbing. The Lord could have gathered the disciples in an out of the way country location to pour His Spirit on them, but He seems to purposefully do it in the middle of Jerusalem where very soon a massive crowd gathers to enable the first Christian sermon to be preached. In the days that followed, signs and wonders at the hands of the apostles continued to be a primary way that the Lord got people's attention so they could then hear the Gospel. The more you think about it, the more these attention-getting events occur in the Bible.
It seems so often we are caught up in the affairs of our lives and it needs something dramatic to break in so that the Lord can speak to us. When you examine the testimonies of a large number of people, you find that some sort of crisis brought them to a standstill in their lives so that the Lord was able to speak into them, bring conviction and the truths of the Gospel to them. Those crises might have been a life-threatening illness, a loss of a job, a bankruptcy, a divorce, a loss of a loved one, a serious accident, or a host of other things that focus our attention. At such times we are brought to a halt and we find ourselves thinking about life issues in a new way and in the midst of that the Lord convicts us of our sin and our need of a Saviour.
Whenever something strange or out of the ordinary takes place today I now ask the question, is the Lord doing something here, is He wanting to say something, is this just a change in the hearts of people, and what are the opportunities that are opening up here? I must also add that I wonder sometimes, ‘Is this the Lord bringing judgment on this people?' Often the things that go on around us in the world are just the effects of a fallen world, a broken world, or of the sin of people in this world, but even there we may ask, ‘Is this a sign of the Lord lifting off His hands of restraint to bring judgment (see Rom 1:24-28 where “God gave them over to….”) There is an interesting little description of some of king David's men in one place: “ men of Issachar, who understood the time s and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chron 12:32) Was that because they discerned the activity of God like few others did?
I wonder are we people who, without getting superstitious or spooky, watch for signs of the Lord seeking to catch our attention in order to be able to speak into our lives? Busyness is surely one of the curses of the modern day, witnessed by people constantly complaining about how fast time seems to be passing. In such an environment it is so easy to miss the Lord's still small voice (e.g. 1 Kings 19:12) and so sometimes I am sure He allows things to come our way to challenge us, to question us, to make us stop and think and then be still and listen. Moses was taken up with his sheep and he had to keep a constant eye out for the occasional sheep straying, and so the Lord needed something that grabbed his attention even more than his sheep because He wanted to have a conversation with Moses.
Meditations in Exodus: 10. Conversation or a word
Ex 3:4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."
I have referred to what followed this unusual sight in the desert arresting Moses' attention as a ‘discussion' with God, and that set me thinking more about what was happening. Perhaps the better word would have been conversation for a discussion implies views put forward by both parties whereas a conversation is more generally a verbal interaction between two people. The only ‘view' that Moses put forward in this conversation is that he was the wrong man for the job. To tell Almighty and all-wise and all-knowing God that He has got it wrong is somewhat presumptuous and must come out of a massive sense of inadequacy, but we'll consider that in a later meditation.
But the truth is that this is a conversation, an ongoing interaction that takes up nearly two chapters and, observing that, it struck me how unusual that was. This was very different from, say, the words that prophets received from the Lord where so often we simply read, “And the word of the Lord came to….” followed by content. That ‘word of the Lord' is more like a one sided memorandum being sent; it is not a conversation.
Conversations with God are in reality very rare. Abraham had a conversation with the Lord when the three men visited him and they ended up speaking about Sodom and what should happen to it (Gen 18). Job had a conversation with the Lord at the end of his book, although it tended to be rather one sided, but it was more than a brief sentence or two. Moses had a conversation with the Lord on Sinai about their future (see Ex 33).
Conversations are two-sided interactions that go on for more than a few seconds and the truth is that God knows so much and we know so little that real conversations are few and far between. Understandably they often more comprise God saying things and us asking questions, which forms a large part of what we have here in Exodus 3 & 4. Although fairly brief we might consider Zechariah's interaction with Gabriel (Luke 1) and Mary's interaction with Gabriel (Luke 2) examples of brief conversations and again information impartation and questions comprise most of the content.
Now you may be thinking this meditation is somewhat intellectual and lacking any practical outworking and if you do it is probably because of something I find among Christians – a reticence to talk about communications with God. However the Bible is full of the Lord communicating with human beings; He is almost above all else a communicating God. The Godhead communicated between Father, Son and Holy Spirit even before the foundation of the world as they planned how to handle sin that would flow from free will.
I suspect that we have conversations with God without realising that is what is happening. A thought comes to us. If we were more spiritually aware we would recognise God speaking the thought to us. We ponder on that thought and have various responses. This is our side of the ‘conversation'. Further thoughts flow and we come up with more responses. Most of us would not dare to say we had a conversation with God (we would think that presumptuous) but in reality that was what it was.
I sometimes wonder if the Lord is communicating more with us but we've just got our minds too full of the activities or events of the twenty-first century to ‘hear' Him. I have noted recently it is not only older people but younger ones too who speak about the busyness of life and not having enough time. Perhaps this is a call to purposefully put aside more time to just sit quietly with the Lord and receive from Him as well as share our hearts more fully with Him than we usually do. If there is a spiritual poverty today, I suspect it starts with the absence of positive time with God. Yes, I know He is there all the time, but we are talking about being aware of His presence now.
What we share with Him and what we hear from Him is, I believe, a measure of the depth and reality of the relationship we have with Him. Talk with many Christians today and they rarely pray and even more they never sit still and purposefully listen to the Lord. I am aware, even as I write this, that this is an area in my own life that needs more attention. Billy Graham, when once asked what he would change if he could have his life over again, replied that he would spend more time with God and pray more. His counsel to others was ‘guard your time and do not feel you have to do everything'. It's probably true of virtually all of us.
But I also pondered why people like Abraham and Moses were special to have God's time and attention, and part of it was because they were significant people in His plans. But aren't you and I? Yes, in a measure we all are but perhaps some of us are called to bigger tasks and the bigger the task the more time you need to spend with Him. I can't remember the saint from the past who recorded something in his diary like, “Very busy day today. Must spend more time praying first.” Whether it is us offloading to Him or Him sharing wisdom with us, it is true. Now I am aware that those words are the words of a servant because servants don't have conversations, they listen and then do.
Speaking about ordinary life as a Christian, Jesus said to his followers, “ you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Lk 17:10) That's our starting place. We have the Bible, we know what his will is and so we should just get on and be what he says – servants. We don't need long discussions with him whether or not you like being a servant; just take what he's said and do it. That's the starting place.
However we move on from that. That's where we were when we became a Christian. We had the book and the rules and we got on with it. But then we began to realise more and more there was a relationship here, a loving relationship and we found the more Jesus shared his love with us and the more we received it, the more we changed and the more we enjoyed him and our relationship with him. We might have started out with the ‘hard man' mentality (Lk 19:21) but the more time we spent aware of his presence the more we realised we were his friends and loved by him and the more we received from him. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants , because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn 15:14,15) Sometimes it comes as ‘a word' but more often it comes in thoughts that just appear. Start to look for the conversations the Lord has with you, become aware of them, and rejoice that you have them.
Meditations in Exodus: 11. Know your God
Ex 3:5,6 Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Living in the day in which we live, with the entire Bible at our disposal, I am certain we take for granted the amount of knowledge about God we have at hand. It is perhaps only when we consider these early books of the Bible that we realise it hasn't always been so. The revelation of who the Lord is came only slowly.
Moses has been carrying on his business looking after his sheep when he is arrested by the sight of a bush on fire but not being consumed. He wanders over to get a closer look and as he does so he finds a voice speaking to him from within the fire. The voice calls him by name. Who or what it is knows who he is. As he goes to get closer to it he is then told to beware for this is holy ground. Now that must have meant something to him and when the voice identifies itself as the God of his ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it creates within him a sense of awe and he covers his face, not wishing to look directly into the flames.
Now what might it have been that provoked that reaction? Well, by designating Himself as He did, the Lord indicates that He knows that Moses has been taught about the history of the Hebrews. To say that He is the God of these three Patriarchs puts content to any consideration of who God is. He had had dealings with each of those three men and in those dealings had revealed a lot about Himself. What do those men tell us about God?
First, that He is a God who can communicate with human beings.
Second, He is a God who knows all about us.
Third, He reveals He has purposes for us that lift us from the level of self-centred godless sin to the level of a significant God-relating human being who can bring good to the world.
Fourth, He persists with us even when we are slow to comprehend what is happening.
Fifth, He can intervene in this material world to bring changes to our circumstances and to our very lives.
Sixth, He clearly knows what is coming in the future.
Seventh, He knows what He can do with individuals, i.e. their potential.
Eighth, He works in, through and around us for the good of mankind.
Ninth, He is the Creator who made all things.
Now most of those things came about by observing the things He did with those three men The last one came about by revelation passed on through Melchizedek to Abram (Gen 14:19,20).
He had communicated with each of them speaking about their future and the Land He promised them. Despite Abram's fumblings with the will of God and getting into trouble in Egypt and having a child through a servant, the Lord persisted with him. Despite Jacob being a scheming cunning deceiver, He persevered with him. When neither Abram nor Isaac appeared to be able to have children, He enabled their wives to conceive. He clearly was a God who KNOWS, who CAN CHANGE circumstances and HAS STANDARDS and PLAN FOR THE FUTURE.
The reality of all of that together with the knowledge that He is the Creator of the whole world puts Him on a very different footing to the idols and gods of other nations. Moses would have known all the gods of Egypt after having lived there for forty years and to be confronted now by a challenger to all of that Egyptian mysticism, occultism and superstition was a serious challenge. Whereas life with the gods of Egypt just went on and on with annual repetition and nothing done in respect of them seemed to change anything, the stories that had been carried down in the family of the happenings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob indicated a God who was not about mystical mumbo-jumbo but an all-powerful Being who clearly DID communicate and DID act into people's lives to bring changes. Dealing with this God had a feeling of reality about it, whereas placating the apparent gods of Egypt just released a sense of fear and uncertainty.
In the light of these things, we might ask ourselves two questions. Question number one: do we have a clear idea of who the Lord is by what we read of Him in the Bible, or is our reading so spasmodic and purposeless that we are left with a hazy picture of who He is and we are uncertain about His intentions toward us? Question number two: do we place our reliance upon things or methods or whatever else of the twenty-first century in a hope that ‘they' will bring us support and comfort and a sense of wellbeing, or do we see that everything for a sense of wellbeing comes out of a living and real relationship with God?
I ask these things because I have a feeling that the Christianity I see portrayed on ‘Christian TV' seems to often rely on twenty-first century “you are a good person with a great potential” (which can be utterly godless and the mantra of Personal Trainers or Life-Skills Mentors). The thing about the gods of Egypt was that they were focused on things - rivers, animals, weather etc. etc. Moses is being confronted with a PERSON who is real, who is there, who is communicating with him and who is utterly different from anything he encountered in his life all those years ago in Egypt – and it is that which is going to be at the heart of all that is coming shortly. Not things. Not methods. Not ego-boosting words. A person! THE person. That is who you and I are confronted by in these verses and in our daily lives.
Meditations in Exodus: 12. Know your God (2)
Ex 3:13,14 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.'”
In the previous meditation we considered the description that the Lord had given of Himself, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which, we noted, gave a lot of content to the Israelites of Moses' day. However it is interesting to note that this is not sufficient for Moses as he thinks of going to his people and describing him thus. The reality was that Israel had developed in a land that was full of gods and all these gods had names (we shall consider some of them in later studies). So who, they might reason, actually was this God who had been dealing with the Patriarchs? Melchizedek had described Him as “ God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth,” (Gen 14:19) but still that really wasn't a name, so what name might this God go by?
And so we come to one of the most enigmatic verses in Scripture: “I AM WHO I AM” which, in the light of what follows – “I AM has sent me to you,” perhaps could be taken to mean, “I AM is who I am,” or “ I am ‘I AM'” This doesn't work as well when you note the footnote in your Bible that it might be “ I WILL BE WHAT I WILL Be,” but perhaps it is more realistic and helpful in the light of the words that followed it.
Let's just consider what that must mean before we go on to see how it is displayed in the rest of the Bible. When we make a statement, “1 am….” We are declaring that that is what we are at this present moment. IF God made Himself visible to a time-traveler and that person asked him at a multitude of locations in history, “Who are you,” He would reply, “I am”, and he would be correct – He exists at any point in history – He is eternal and has no beginning or end. In this point He is utterly unique. Normally when we say someone or something is unique that is sufficient but we really do need to doubly emphasise this because in terms of God always existing, He is utterly unique, there never has been anyone, there is no one and there never will be anyone who always goes on existing in an unchanging form.
The Greeks and the Romans had gods in their own image and as such they were vulnerable to attack by one another. God is not vulnerable because He cannot be harmed and He cannot be destroyed – He just is and nothing can change that. The Greek and Roman gods looked after their favourites and so the description of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was insufficient because it was like saying they were his favourites in the same way the Greek or Roman gods had favourites, but now we see God as the unique unchanging everlasting One, the eternal One, the One who existed before the foundation of the world, the One who defies our intellect in that He always was and always will be. He is unique.
Now if you have not been down this path before, we need to go on to the next verse: “ God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” (v.15) What our English text does not show us is the significance of the word LORD in capital letters. The footnote in your Bible will say, “The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14” and the word ‘Yahweh' is considered a shortening of the whole into one, or shortened even more to YHWH. We might also note that pious Jews became fearful of speaking this name in this form and so took the Hebrew word ‘adonay' meaning, ‘my Lord' and combining it with YHWH to form a work which in English is rendered Jehovah.
This when you come across the word LORD in the Biblical text, if you wanted to expand it you could say, ‘Lord' or ‘Yahweh' or ‘Jehovah'. I prefer, if I want to emphasise the meaning behind it, simply to say, ‘The I AM' emphasizing His eternal uniqueness. So, for instance in Psa 2 verse 7 where it says, “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD,” to emphasise the uniqueness and therefore importance of the originator of the decree, I might read it out loud as, “I will proclaim the decree of the I AM.” It simply reminds me of the greatness of the One designated by the word LORD.
(NB. The fact that this word is printed like this in Genesis, historically long before the revelation, is simply an indication that Genesis was compiled by Moses and he used ‘The Name' in the way he came to know it, even though not historically yet revealed)
In what follows the Lord tells Moses, “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-- appeared to me.” (v.16). He is still to use that prior description because they would understand that. Only if they asked for a name would he them give the second name. When it comes to approaching Pharaoh his is to use a double description: “Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us.” (v.18) Note he does use ‘a name' as Pharaoh would expect him to, as strange and possibly meaningless as that might sound to Pharaoh, but he is to qualify that name by, “the God of the Hebrews” which again would make sense to Pharaoh. i.e. we have our gods and the Hebrews obviously have just one god, is how he would think of it.
Part of the process that would unfold would be to reveal to Pharaoh and his people that this ‘god', “I AM”, is utterly different to the multitude of gods that they worshipped. This god in fact moved, spoke, directed and DID things when He said He would and that put Him on a completely different footing from anything or anyone they had known before. It will only be Pharaoh's pride that will prevent him from seeing the truth of this and will lead to his death.
Simple question: be honest, do we expect God to be alive and moving in our affairs, really changing things, changing us, changing circumstances, changing other people, and so on? In reality, have we got a living God? Do we conduct ‘church' as if we are on our own and thus plan our ‘program' accordingly, or do we expect Him to intervene in what we do, and so do we give Him space? Real questions. Belief or unbelief?
Meditations in Exodus: 13. At the heart of a calling
Ex 3:7-10 The LORD said, " I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt . I have heard them crying ….. I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them …. I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt ."
We go back a few verses to observe Moses' calling. Very often we focus on that but I felt we should first focus on who it was calling him and we have seen God described by reference to the Patriarchs and by the name He wants to be known by henceforth, “I AM”. Having established that, we can now go back and learn some things about the way He now calls Moses.
I am going to make a starting statement and then refer everything back to that: Moses' calling is very simple; it is to fulfil the heart desire of God . Let's start by focusing on each of the things the Lord says about himself in the four verses referred to above which I have placed in bold so they stand out.
Twice in fact He says He has seen what is going on, the misery of His people because of the oppression of the Egyptians. The Lord sees everything and knows everything. David knew this when he wrote Psa 139: “ You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” (v.2-4) But the Lord makes it more dramatic: “I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers.” The anguish of the Israelites was such that it was being expressed in sounds, crying which came to the Lord's hearing. We are learning things about God here, things being directly said. This God doesn't sit objectively watching what goes on, almost yawning in boredom over it; no, this God is moved by compassion over what he sees: “I am concerned about their suffering.” It was compassion that so often moved Jesus in his ministry.
But compassion does not stand still, it DOES something, which is why He then says, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites.” Note the extent of information conveyed there. He has come down to make His presence felt on the earth, to achieve two main goals in respect of Israel – to free them from Egypt and to get them into Canaan. I emphasise that this is in respect of Israel , for previously we have noted that the Lord also has two goals in respect of Egypt and Canaan – to deal with the sin of both countries. Thus we find the Lord actually has four goals in respect of the Exodus: i) to deal with the sin of Egypt, ii) to take His people Israel out of Egypt, iii) to deal with the sin of Canaan, and iv) to take Israel into that land to inhabit it.
So far, so good. That is fine. God is coming to help the Hebrews, Moses' old people. Great. But then comes the shock: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt .” Oh my goodness! Moses is to confront the most powerful man in the Middle East ! But hold on! We have learnt that God is the all-powerful Creator of the world, the I AM, the Eternal One, and He has just said HE is going to rescue Israel , so why does He need Moses?
It is here we arrive at the all-important principle when it comes to so much of God's activities: He wants to use us, involve us and make us His mouthpiece to others. He will speak to Moses and Moses will speak to Pharaoh. That sounds pretty simple – except that that is not the sort of person Pharaoh is, someone who just agrees to the demands of a scruffy old shepherd. What a crazy thought. So what is going to happen?
The Lord later explains: “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.” (v.19,20). Again note the three things the Lord says about Himself in these two verses. First, He knows what Pharaoh is like and knows he will need forcing down this path, second, He will stretch out His hand of authority over this land so that, third, He will release His power to deal with Pharaoh so that he will eventually let Israel go. This is going to need the Lord's authority and power as the all-powerful One who is Lord of all.
So the strategy is simple: Moses speaks and God does. You can't make it any more simple than that and that is how it works with us. His Holy Spirit prompts us to speak or do something so that then He exercises His authority and power and changes things. You and I do not have the power – only He does. It may seem that we are exercising the power and let the wind blow in but all we do is open the door by our words or act of faith, and then He comes. It is that simple and it leaves no room for pride in us. In ‘our' ministry it is so easy to forget these things but this is the truth. If great things happen it will be because of a partnership where you speak and He does. Yes, it takes faith to speak but that is all; He provides the power to bind demons, release the oppressed, heal the sick and raise the dead!
But is it that simple? Well the fact that Moses is going to argue over this for two chapters suggests that it is not. There are a whole load of hurdles to be cleared before we can play our part, and so we need to go through this ‘conversation' and see what they are, and that is what we will do in the coming meditations. Application? Am I willing to face my shortcomings? Am I willing to talk them through with the Lord and enable Him to build faith is me? And, finally, do I see that the heart of my calling is to fulfil the heart desire of God?
Meditations in Exodus: 14. Who am I?
Ex 3:11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt ?"
These are Moses' first words of response to the Lord after He has revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush. They are, very simply, a question as to the identity and authority of this apparent ambassador to the king of Egypt . Forty years ago Moses might have replied, “Fine, I am a prince of Egypt so I have every right to access to the king of Egypt . Whether he will accept what I say is another thing but, yes, this was my home so I am familiar with the court.” But forty years alone with sheep in a desert has washed away any of that. I'm just a scruffy shepherd now, one of the outcasts of civilised society so why should the king even let me within shouting distance of him? And if I did get to him, whatever makes you think this great man will listen to a nobody like me?
Who am I? is not a question that ‘big people' ask, people full of confidence. Watch a young man or woman who has grown up in an affluent home, who has gone to preparatory school, then a well-known Public School (Private in the USA ), watch and observe their confidence. Confidence is possibly THE main characteristic that is build into them in that system. They have had it all and been taught that they are superior and have a great future ahead of them. They are the people who often end up Prime Minister or some other ‘high' position, but they will never end up leading a people out of Egypt .
Listen to the apostle Paul's description of his outlook on life: “ we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh-- though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish , that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:3-9) In his day he had all the right spiritual qualifications but he knew those particular qualifications counted for nothing with God. He considered his pedigree and his training ‘rubbish' for none of them made him an apostle, none of them equipped him to move in the power of the Spirit, and none of them qualified him to be called a child of God.
Paul explained it to the Corinthians in this way: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things --and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor 1:26-29) I think we have so often got it wrong! It was not long back that any Anglican vicar had to have gone through either Oxford or Cambridge , the brightest of the bright! No wonder the Church of England is so often so spiritually weak. But be careful. How many other denominations require their ‘ministers' to have gone through rigorous academic training indicating a high intellect? Please, this is not saying being bright is wrong or bad, quite to the contrary, but if we rely upon intellect as a spiritual qualification we will have gone far astray.
Moses had the right qualification: a sure confidence that he had no confidence and was not up to the job! But that did mean a long argument Now the Lord's answer was in two parts, the first quite clear and the second somewhat enigmatic. The first part of quite clear: “And God said, “I will be with you.” (v.12a) Actually the more you think about that the more it might raise questions. You will be with me? What does that mean? Although we considered it previously He hasn't yet said that He will intervene to deal with Pharaoh. For you and I today, if the Lord says, “I am with you”, we have plenty of content from the Bible that tells us what that means. For Moses, all he knows is that this is the God of the Patriarchs and the content to that statement is a little limited as we've seen before. It's not so much a case of will you be with me but will you actually DO anything and what CAN you do? Well perhaps to say that to the One who has created the world is a bit silly, but these are the sort of things that go round in our minds when we sense this calling to do something spectacular. Sometimes when we are first faced with this sort of thing, it takes a while for all the realities to sink in. Our sense of inadequacy often smothers everything else.
Then comes the somewhat enigmatic part: “And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt , you will worship God on this mountain.” (v.12b) Excuse me but I prefer signs BEFORE the event but you are saying I will get the sign afterwards. Well, I suppose some sign is better than nothing. When we get back here (if that should actually happen) then, yes, it will have been a miracle and so yes it must have been the Lord, which perhaps is helpful for the ongoing future but not so much now.
The fact that Moses is watching a burning bush not being burnt and that he hears a voice speaking out of it, and the voice makes sense should, it seems, be sufficient evidence for Moses to move out. How often, I wonder, do we question and query when God speaks to us and gives us a commission? The truth of these two chapters is that God is patient with us and will persevere with our hesitations and questions. Rest in His love. If he speaks major change in your life, expect it to come at least three times, probably in different ways. It is knowing that it is Him tends to be our biggest question, which is why He, in His love and grace, will speak again and again. Thank and praise Him for this.
Meditations in Exodus: 15. Facing Unbelief of Others
Ex 4:1 Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did not appear to you'?"
Moses is facing another problem – other people. The Lord has said to him, “ Say to the Israelites , `The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you,” (v.15) and then, “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-- appeared to me,” (v.16) and “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us.” (v.18) Moses first step is to go and talk to Israel in captivity, specifically to the elders. But they are elders and he is just a shepherd, and here he will be claiming to have had a special encounter with God, the God who has been quiet for over four hundred years, the God who only appears in the tales of the Patriarchs, so the odds are that they are going to query what he says.
It is a good concern, a right concern and it is only in the light of the ongoing “Send someone else” that we can see it in a negative light. So, yes, what does he do if the elders turn round and challenge him? The Lord has an answer but it is not comfortable: “Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?” (v.2) Well that is easy to answer: “A staff," he replied.” No problem there. “The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground.” (v.3) Er, right. “Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.” Whooah! What has happened? The daily part of his life that he uses to care for his flock has become an enemy!
“Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.” (v.4) What was all this about? Well, it was fairly obvious in one sense, it was a supernatural act of God: “This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has appeared to you.” (v.5) Now liberal commentators really struggle with this and the sign following because there is no doubt that it is an impossibility naturally but it seems to have happened. I have read these verses and wondered over them for over forty years, and they are still not easy to understand. Yes, it is a simple and straight forward ‘sign', a miracle that says this is God in action, but beyond that it starts getting difficult because there is no explanation and as for asking how this can apply in our lives today….well!!!
But God doesn't do irrational things. What He does He does for a reason. There is always purpose in His actions, so what can He possibly be saying in this ‘sign'? Well first of all let's recognize again that this ‘staff' was shepherds staff, a stick that Moses used on a daily basis to beat off predators, possibly kill snakes in the desert, and use to steer the sheep into the fold at night and to tap them to keep them away from briars and other things. It was, if you like, the tool of his trade, the thing that made him a shepherd.
So you hear God speaking about a new ministry, a new life ahead serving Him? Then put down and surrender your past to Him. When Elijah called Elisha, Elisha went straight home and we read, “So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.” (1 Kings 19:21) Elisha got rid of his past to follow Elijah. To move in to new things with God we have to let go the old things. We cannot rely on the past to achieve new works of the Spirit tomorrow.
But the staff turned into a snake which, as we said, was an enemy of the desert dweller. It is of course, also a picture of Satan as seen in the Garden of Eden, tempting Eve (see Gen 3). To move on by faith into new ministry means relying utterly on the Lord and not on your past experience. That past experience will certainly have made you the man or woman that you are, but it will not help you when tomorrow you are confronted by an impossibility that needs the working of God. Indeed so strong is this as a lesson, so vital is it for us to understand, that we are to recognize that past experience as something that could actually be a source of temptation to use my human efforts and abilities instead of God's. It can become a tool in Satan's hands to hinder me in any new work or ministry.
So two principles so far: first, if we are to move on in faith we must let go past experience and reliance on my abilities, and second, the past may become a source of temptation to rely on self-effort to do the work of God. So, having said that, what are we to do about that? Just kill it off and ignore it? No, God is in the redemption business. Once you realise it is not to be relied upon and that it can become a source of temptation to self effort, He wants you to take hold of it and with His power transform it back into something useful. But more than useful! Yes, this staff is going to be divinely supernatural if we may put it like that. It's going to eat up the staff of the magicians of Egypt , it's going to be held out over the Nile to bring blood and…. well, it's going to be used in a big way in his future ministry!
As we let go reliance upon the past, as we let go our fears and our failures that lurk in the shadows of the memory and we refuse to place reliance on ‘my abilities' but place them on ‘His abilities', refusing to be tempted to look backwards for inspiration for tomorrow but instead looking to Him to come with power THEN we will see the transformation and deliverance of our countries that we so need. “Not by might nor by power (nor by my experience or ability) but by my Spirit, say the Lord” (Zech 4:6) Will we have any problem convincing others? Some, yes, but those with eyes to see will see the work of the Spirit and will know. You may have to throw your past on the ground in front of them, giving it up yet again, but it will be then that the power of God is released, as you let HIM do what only He can do. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Exodus: 16. God of Transformation
Ex 4:6 Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow.
There are those who don't like these verses for, they say, it seems like God is doing magic, these are like parlour tricks, what is this all about? When they say that they indicate they have lost the big picture. The Lord is introducing Moses to the idea that He is a God of power who has the ability to change things and when it comes to His judgments those things can be pretty spectacular! What is about to follow is all about judgment on Pharaoh and on Egypt and it IS going to be spectacular.
Previously we saw Moses introduced to this sort of thing by his staff being turned into a snake and then back again and we pondered on the significance of that . That was scary enough but now it gets closer. The Lord tells Moses to put his hand inside his cloak and when he withdraws it, it has turned white as if afflicted with a skin disease. The Lord tells him to put it back inside his cloak again and when he withdraws it, it was restored. Magic or genuine power?
I suspect that it is the remnants of sin in each of us that makes us struggle with unbelief. The sceptic grumbles at this incident and the rest of us just wonder, but when we come to the question of healing (or inflicting with illness for that matter) the vast majority of us verge on the sceptical. If we are not sceptical, we link healing with holiness and put conditions on our healing – “IF I am a good person, then God might heal me.” But then we struggle with the ‘IF' part and concluding that we are not holy we don't see how God can heal us.
Now what this incident does, if you like, more than anything else, is detach the sickness and healing from any outward condition or detach it from Moses behaviour. The sickness comes and the sickness goes and Moses has done nothing to contribute to either. It is simply an act of God and it did not depend on anything in Moses. I have thought long and hard about the question of healing, especially over the last five years when I have had various physical afflictions. During that time I have known ALL of the following experiences. I have prayed for hearing with no effect. Others have prayed for me for healing with no effect. At other times I have prayed for and seen healing as I have prayed. Others have prayed for me and I have been healed. I have been healed just sitting in a meeting with no one praying for me- it was just a sovereign act of God. I have sat in a prayer group praying for one another and had a rebellion of several people who insisted that “issues” be dealt with before they could pray for healing for someone, and I have prayed in that same group and seen the Lord just turn up without condition.
When it comes to the Gospels, they are completely unnerving. I recently had an old friend I came across, tell me that he believed that miraculous healing was rare and was a sign that God was giving and that's why it didn't happen often. And then I go back and read Jesus in the Gospels, the Son of God to whom crowds came and he healed them all. There is no indication that he took them all through some sort of counselling surgery to get their lives right first of all; no, he just healed them. God is not limited by our frame of mind. It does seem that the only thing He expected was faith, and when that was there, he healed.
But the point of these two mini-miracle-signs we are considering here, apart from the things we considered before, is that God is a God of power and He can change whatever He likes, however He likes. A stick into a snake and back again, and a whole arm into a leprous arm and back again; whether it be an inanimate stick or a living arm, He has the power. Moses are you starting to understand this? Did you not realise the burning bush not being consumed was His starter demonstration and, because He has already spoken of doing ‘wonders' (3:20) haven't you realised He is going to be doing a lot more?
But this is all preliminary stuff, the stuff that changes people's minds and helps them believe. It seems that so many of Jesus' healing miracles were done with this in mind and so it is true here. God is not ashamed to put on a display if He thinks it will release faith. So we've had a burning bush, a transformed stick, and a transformed arm; let's have one more demonstration: “ Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” (v.8,9) Now when it came to it there is no record of Moses performing the miracle with his arm before Pharaoh but it appears clear he did both miracles before the elders and people of Israel: “Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the sign s before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.” (4:29-31) Later Moses performed the miracle with his staff before Pharaoh but when it came to the Nile, by then his faith had risen and he did not merely pour out water from the Nile, he stretched out his staff over the Nile and all the water turned to blood.
The outworking, fitting the circumstances, were slightly different than we have seen here but the overall lesson was exactly the same: this God who is confronting you, is the God who is all-mighty, all-powerful. As we progress we will see Pharaoh who can believe in a multitude of gods of the land but who struggles to face the reality of the One Supreme Being who is so much more powerful than him as to make his opposition a joke! I suspect that many Christians today, have a similar struggle. We can believe in the things we can see and we can even go beyond that into the Gospel, but after we have been born again, we struggle to cope with a God who can move with revelation and power to bring change and so despite the Scripture declaring, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Heb 13:8) we struggle to believe he can do the same things today through ‘his body', the church, as he did on earth two thousand years ago. Pick up many a commentary and you find this same unbelief in the evangelical writers of this past century. Dare we believe in a supernatural Saviour? If not, we are in unbelief and are in serious trouble in this day of unbelief.
Meditations in Exodus: 17. I'm not a speaker
Ex 4:10 Moses said to the LORD , "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."
Moses' starting point had been, “ Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt ?” (Ex 3:11), the expression of one with low self-esteem after forty years of looking after a flock of sheep in the wilderness. His second question had been about God and not himself : “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?” (Ex 3:13) A legitimate question. His third question focused on those he was going to: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did not appear to you'?” (Ex 4:1)
Having covered all the bases, so to speak, he returns to his own inability. “I'm just not a communicator, I'm not good with people, I never know what to say.” Do those thing sound familiar? They are the excuses people make when the subject of witnessing comes up, or doing anything public for that matter. There are public figures and then there is me. But can I tell you something I have noticed about those who say these things? Put them with someone who they know and they can chat on over a cup of coffee and talk about anything. It's all about confidence. I can talk to someone in my family but I wouldn't know what to say to a stranger.
Let me give you a testimony and I do this with some measure of reticence and yet a feeling I ought to do it. I was a pastor of two churches for over twenty five years. I traveled abroad teaching. I overheard someone say they felt I was one of the most pastoral people they had ever come across and another said they felt I was the most gentle person they ever came across and yet I did it because it had to be done and that's what Jesus would have done. In many ways I was never comfortable with people. When I look back I had a tremendous sense of inadequacy and inferiority which was largely healed up when I became a Christian in my early twenties, but was still there in the background. At one time back then in my earliest Christian days I was leading seven different Bible Studies a week – all full of people and I thoroughly enjoyed them in that context.
I retired from that world a little over five years ago when the Lord told me it was time to give up my leadership role and start a local online community magazine that was first of all a local directory for my small town and then a means of entertaining with recreational reading and finally with providing teaching and help pages. He used Jeremiah's words, “Seek the welfare of the city to which you have been exiled” (Jer 29:7) to get me under way. Do good to people, make them feel good. Bless them by serving them in this community. Now the Lord, I am sure, has a sense of humor. To compile this directory of shops, businesses, clubs, groups, organizations, churches, schools and local authority people, I had to visit every single one and talk to people. With some shops it was simply gathering basic information; at other times it might be to interview people to get them to explain to the community their expertise. Trying to bring the work of the local parish Council and then the local District Council to the awareness of the community meant that I had to interview elected councilors and employee-officers of the council. It has been an amazing five years. After the first year of so I made an amazing discovery: “Oh my goodness! I love people, I love talking to them and even more getting them to talk to me!” After about a year of this I went to cover a Fayre that a local school was putting on and as they had invited me in I decided I would briefly interview each stallholder to see where they came from and how they came to be there. Here's where it gets funny; my wife decided to come along and afterwards she said to me, “So where has my husband gone? Who is this man of the world I've been watching all morning?” I looked at here somewhat blankly. “What do you mean?” “From the moment we walked through the doors I lost you. You were off talking to people like they were long lost buddies. Where did all that come from?” The Lord, I guess.
My point is twofold. First, so often we limit ourselves because of the past forty years in the desert. We may have gone through dry and drastic and demeaning times; we may have failed Him more than a few times; we may have got it drastically wrong but in the kingdom of God I've come to realise that is not the end of it.
Now here's my second point that has come out of my testimony: it is often a matter of the environment or the surroundings and who we are in them. Suddenly I had a new purpose and a new reason for being there and I have to tell you that over these five years I would say that at least 98% of the people I've met or interviewed have received me very well and our encounter has been pure pleasure.
The Lord said, to Moses, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex 4:12) so although I have not been conscious of His enabling in every interview, I have prayed for it and I believe it was there. He has put questions in my mind, He has opened up channels of conversation. Once I had the task, I just got on with it and it soon became natural but I still ask for His help. I'm off to interview a local fund-raiser in an hour's time and I've prayed about it and I'm sure He will bless it. What will we talk about? I'm not sure of the details, I have some ideas but as I do it, it will open up.
Talking to his disciples about how to handle the tough times, Jesus said, “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:19,20) That is the truth for us Christians – God will help us, He will teach us what to say, His Spirit will give us the words.
Oh, by the way, don't forget what we said in a recent meditation – don't rely on self-effort, past experience and so on; rely on Him every time, seek Him, ask Him, trust Him! Despite what I've said above, and it is all true, I've been a Bible teacher for over forty years, a preacher for over thirty years and I was a professional college teacher for over seventeen years, but none of those things make one-to-one easy. It is easy when you trust God for it and you have a sense of purpose in it. I'm afraid it is that simple despite all the self-help books in the local bookstores. When you are the person He's called you to be, and you love the people in front of you and care for them and listen to them, and you've asked for His help, they will open up to you and you will never again say, “I have never been eloquent,” because you will know that doesn't matter. Go into today thinking, “Who can I bless, Lord?”
Meditations in Exodus: 18. Enough!
Ex 4:13 But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."
Four questions and now a plea that is a refusal. Moses really isn't doing very well. If this had been a job interview as we know them today, the interviewing board would have given up on him long back. Holding on graciously they might have said, “Moses, you are clearly the man for the job. Everything we know about you says this is your job. Please stop asking questions and just take the job.” But he puts in this last plea, there must be someone else, use them. And I imagine the head of the interviewing board in exasperation going, “Oh for goodness sake! Go on then, get out of here!” But God knows His man and knows what can be done, so He doesn't give up.
But He does get angry! Here is the scariest thought in this whole passage: you can push God too far! Anger can come from frustration and anger can be the right response to wrong doing. Psychologists and counsellors talk a lot about the reasons for anger and how to manage anger, but in the realm of ethics I would suggest that anger against a wrong is a measure of the wrong. One psychologist has written, “ While anger is … vulnerable to excess ….it represents an appropriate response to wilful harm and needs to be afforded a central role in any conception of justice.” Justice is about right and appropriate responses to wrong behaviour. In a day when the media mixes up our emotions and the causes of them, we perhaps lose the idea that it is right to be angry, not for selfish reasons, but that something goes against the grain of God's perfect design.
The Lord has patiently answered all of Moses' questions but after all that when Moses still refuses, it is a legitimate and appropriate response to feel anger. Make sure you distinguish anger from hostile and violent responses. God never has knee-jerk responses and when He feels anger it is always right and appropriate and is always the precursor to Him then considering what response should follow. The following response is not always as we might expect.
Earlier I imagined the head of an interviewing board throwing him out, but God's response accepts the problem of Moses' low self-esteem (maybe the work of the desert has gone too far!) and looks for an alternative way to work through the plan without giving up on it: “ he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.” (Ex 4:14-17) A solution! It sounds a bit heavy handed having a God-interpreter (Moses) plus a direct negotiator (Aaron) but it can work and in the long-term God knows what Moses can become, a long-suffering shepherd of His people Israel .
So we then read, “ Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, "Let me go back to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.” (v.18a) The conversation is at an end and so all that is left is for Moses to go. He goes first to his father-in-law, because he is still looking after his sheep and he needs to leave them with him if he is to go back to Egypt . Moses accepts the situation and acts accordingly. Whether he explained to Jethro all that had happened we don't know but the old man's response of gracious: “Jethro said, "Go, and I wish you well.” (v.18b) We'll see some more of Jethro later but for the time being Moses leaves him in Midian and starts off for Egypt . We'll pick it up there in the next meditation.
But what about application? What does this story say to us? Well, first and foremost it says the same thing that so often comes over in the Bible: God knows our potential, our future capabilities, better than we do. He knows what He can achieve through us in working through His plans to bless His world.
But second, and very much associated with that, He also knows our limitations and knows where He will have to step in to help us. In the conversation we have been considering, we have seen the Lord say, “ I will be with you,” (3:12) and “I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them,” (3:20) and “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,” (4:12) and then in respect of Aaron, “I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” (4:15) And that is apart from the miracles of the staff and the leprous hand that He would enable Moses to do. The Lord will be there doing the heavy stuff in this encounter with Pharaoh. Moses just has to speak out or at least now, let Aaron speak out. These four words of comfort can perhaps be summed up as ‘I will guide you and teach you'. What more can we ask of Him as He leads us through life?
Remember, if you get involved in a feeding of the five thousand situation, the dynamics of it: Jesus prays (Lk 9:16), he breaks the bread and then hands it to his disciples for them to “set before the people”. You are just a distributor; Jesus is the miracle performer! And that's how it always is: he involves us and guides and teaches us in the situation, but he is the one who performs the miracle!!!! Let's hold on to these truths.