Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Insufficient Magic

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed. Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.”’” And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”

Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.

Seven full days passed after the LORD had struck the Nile.  (Exodus 7:14-25 ESV)

The Egyptians believed that the god Osiris was drowned in the Nile and that his body annually caused the flooding of the Nile which brought fertilization of the land.  This annual flooding was needed for them to prosper and the regularity of this was known as Ma’at, the orderliness of the world.  The Pharaoh, a god in their view, was responsible for maintaining Ma’at and the flooding of the Nile.  So too was the god Hapi.  Everything depended on the Nile’s annual flooding and life giving properties.

For Yahweh to turn the Nile and all other waterways into blood was a powerful demonstration of His sovereignty over all nations and the impotence of Egypt’s Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods.  And even though the magicians’ ability to turn a small amount of water into blood was obviously insignificant compared to what Yahweh did through Moses, Pharaoh hardened his heart.  For seven days the Egyptians were forced to dig for pure water.  The danger could not be more obvious, the nation could not be more close to collapse.  Simple reason told them they should listen to Yahweh.

People have a knack for ignoring the obvious, and according to Paul (Romans 1:18-26) the most obvious fact we ignore is God’s existence and who He really is.  We repress the truth about God so that we don’t have to submit to Him as He requires.  We shape an image of the God we want to serve, one we can control.  That is at the root of all idolatry.  Egyptians had gods they could manipulate to fertilize their land.  We have a god who is supposed to take care of our every need and be most concerned about our happiness.  We need a Moses to show us how insignificant our magic is.

Romans 1:25, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Benefits of Misery

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”

So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (Exodus 5 ESV)

Yahweh had told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart to resist Yahweh’s command, and sure enough Pharaoh derisively denounces the name of Yahweh and his responsibility to obey Him.  Moses and Aaron say, “Thus says Yahweh,” but Pharaoh’s representatives say, “Thus says Pharaoh,” setting up a battle between the two to show who has ultimate authority.

The people of Israel are understandably upset and even Moses has trouble understanding why God is doing what He is doing.  What Moses does not see is that Israel needs to recognize just how miserable their lot is in Egypt.  Are they servants of Pharaoh or servants of Yahweh?  Will they trust Yahweh despite the circumstances seeming to the contrary of what God has promised them?  Will they follow Moses as Yahweh’s spokesman?  In order to see where we must go we need to see first where we must leave.  Is my current lifestyle keeping me from truly following God’s lead and accomplishing His purposes?  I need to see how inadequate my current lifestyle is before I will be attracted to God’s calling.  I need to see how bad off I am before I am willing to make major changes to seek something better.

The process of realizing how miserable you are before you take positive action and institute radical change works in every aspect of our lives.  I don’t get knee replacement surgery until I can hardly walk.  I don’t quite smoking until I can hardly breathe.  I don’t learn how to stop hurting my relationships until I’m all alone.  It is a shame that we cannot see the way forward until we have totally explored all other directions and come up lost.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Pushing God to the Limits

Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” And the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.

And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”

At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

The LORD said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.  (Exodus 4:18-31 ESV)

Moses appears to be obeying Yahweh now, parting with his father-in-law, taking Yahweh at His word that those who would prosecute Moses for that murder are gone, and taking the staff as God commanded him and heading out.  God explains to him more of His plan, especially that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart, which likely struck terror in Moses’ heart.  Pharaoh will resist Moses and Yahweh up to a threat to kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son.

It is at this point that I believe Moses tries his last resistance to going back.  He does not circumcise his son, thinking that this will disqualify him in God’s eyes to lead this mission.  But it does more than disqualify him, it nearly gets him killed as a disciplinary action of God.  His wife saves his life and brings him into compliance.

Then he meets Aaron at Mt. Sinai, makes him his spokesman, and has his initial meeting with the people of Israel and as hoped, they believe that I AM has sent him and they worship Yahweh.  The next step is to confront Pharaoh.

We must not presume that if we choose to disobey God He will simply put us on the shelf, safe out of harm’s way.  No loving parent would let his child continue in such rebellion without disciplining him.  God’s discipline always produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

I distinctly remember sensing that God wanted me to start a men’s ministry at our church and I remember doing nothing about it.  God chose someone else, someone more obedient, and it ministered to many men.  I missed a blessing but I learned a lesson about obeying God.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What Really Makes God Mad

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”  (Exodus 4:10-17 ESV)

God is not passive toward our disobedience and our wounded self-image is not an excuse for disobeying.

Moses has yet another reason why Yahweh shouldn’t send him to Egypt.  He is not eloquent, he says, but God says He is capable of using Moses’ slow tongue.  In fact, Yahweh takes all credit for making anyone deaf and mute or seeing or blind.  All our abilities or disabilities are from God, an obvious contradiction of the prosperity gospel.  In Moses’ case God promises to be with Moses’ mouth and teach him what to say.

Finally Moses just begs God not to send him and our patient God finds His anger catching fire.  Moses is on the edge with God and yet God makes one more concession to His reluctant servant.  Aaron can be Moses’ spokesman and in fact Aaron is on the way to visit Moses and is almost there.  He will be Moses’ prophet even as Moses is Yahweh’s prophet.  Moses must take Aaron and the staff God gave him and go.

Have you been hurt like Moses?  His first attempt at being a deliverer failed miserably and now he was gun shy.  He saw himself as inadequate, a feeling many of us can identify with.  Truth be told, we are inadequate to serve the Lord.  But He wants to make us adequate.  If we obey, He will equip.  If we follow, He will further.  If we try, He will bring success, His success, whatever He deems that to be.  But He won’t put up with our disobedience.  We won’t lose our relationship to Him, but we will be out of fellowship with Him and under His loving discipline.  And we will miss the joy of serving Him that He had in store for us.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Trust God and Do the Right Thing

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—“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.” Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”  (Exodus 4:1-9 ESV)

Have you ever wondered whether something God called you to do with people will be received by them?  Have you been afraid to take Him at His word that it will be used by Him for His purposes?  Magnify that multiple times for Moses, who was being asked to face down the most powerful man in the world, the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Moses is certain that not even the Israelites, let alone Pharaoh, will listen to him or believe Yahweh has sent him.  So Yahweh gives him three signs, the staff that turns into a snake and back again, his hand turning leprous and then healing, and the Nile water turned into blood.  Interestingly, God does not say that they will believe Moses.  He instructs him to use the staff “that they may believe” and the leprous healing that “they may believe” after not being satisfied with the first sign.  And He suggests that they may not believe Moses with those two signs and so gives the third.  That is not a guarantee.

But Yahweh has already told Moses that He will be with him.  Moses might understandably be nervous, as would we be, but God is asking him to trust him and has shown him several signs, including being a flame in a bush, to demonstrate His power and presence.  God is asking us to trust Him, too, and to take what should really be no risk at all, even if it does mean that we are not listened to or are treated shamefully.  Some who trust Him and go lose their lives (Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Acts 7; James, the first apostle killed, Acts 12).  Jesus was not spared and neither might we be, but we are doing the will of our Father, Yahweh Elohim.  That is the right thing to do.

Some will hate thee, some will love thee, Some will flatter, some will slight; Turn from man, and look above thee, Trust in God and do the right.

Simple rule and safest guiding, Inward peace and inward light; Star upon our path abiding, TRUST IN GOD AND DO THE RIGHT.

Norman Macleod, 1857

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Getting Our Attention

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  (Exodus 3:1-6 ESV)

When God wants to get our attention He does something unusual in our lives.  For Moses, now a shepherd of sheep in charge of another’s flock, the sight of bushes catching fire in the wilderness might not have been that uncommon, but when this bush would not stop burning, was not consumed by the flames, his curiosity was aroused and he altered his normal path.

It says that the Angel or Messenger of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame and then says God called to Moses out of the bush.  And so the Messenger of Yahweh and Yahweh are identical, leading us to realize that this is the pre-incarnate (before he took on human nature or flesh) Son of God serving at the Father’s behest to communicate to Moses.  His holy presence demands special honor from Moses.  It has made the very ground on which Moses is standing, holy.  Removing his shoes is a powerful symbol of respect.

Moses believes, as have so many to whom God appeared, that if he sees God he will die, so he averts his eyes. There is truth to this in that God’s unmitigated or veiled appearance would kill us simply because our bodies cannot take that kind of stimulation without shutting down.  But God would not purposely appear to us in a way we couldn’t handle, and here, appearing as a flame, He is veiled enough to not hurt Moses.

How is God seeking to get your attention?  Is He waking you earlier than you need to get up so you’ll spend some time with Him?  Is there conflict in your life that He wants you to come to Him about?  Has He sent someone to you to alter your normal way of life?  And in that situation are you acknowledging His holiness and “taking off your shoes?”

Russian Proverb;  “It is the same with men as with donkeys; whoever would hold them fast must get a very good grip on their ears!”

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Using God’s Gifts

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”  (Exodus 2:11-22 ESV)

When we have been called and gifted by God we can’t help but act in accord with that gifting.  God has equipped Moses to be a leader and a deliverer.  To everyone he is an Egyptian, but he knows he is a Hebrew and when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he acts to rescue the Hebrew, but not necessarily in the way God intended him to do.  And when he sees two Hebrews fighting he can’t help but challenge this, only to find out that his murder of the Egyptian is known and he must flee Egypt.  But the question, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us,” is answered by, “God.”  But Moses hasn’t asked God how to fulfill this role, acting on his own at the internal pressure he feels to lead his people.

In the land of Midian the same thing happens, with happier results.  He rescues the daughters of the priest of Midian and is rewarded with the man’s hospitality and eventually his daughter’s hand in marriage.  He begins a settled life away from any movement toward saving Israel.  But God is not through with him.

What has God gifted you to do?  Have you failed in your attempts?  Even so haven’t you seen what God has put in you, what drives you to make a difference in our world.  God is not through with you either.  Only when your gifts are used in His service will you be truly successful.

In his devotional book Daily Readings, W.E. Sangster relates the following story: Some years ago, in the midst of much toilsome work and not a few perplexities, I received a letter from a stranger. It was a lovely letter. It seemed to see right into my situation and, with almost uncanny discernment, to sense my need.  Though the letter required no answer (my correspondent explained that he did not wish to add to my work) I sent a word of the warmest gratitude, and some months later we met.  Let me tell you about this obscure disciple and something of his secret service for our Lord.  He is a shy man. It would be wrong to say that he has no gift in public speech, but he has a great gift in writing. Years ago he went to God for guidance, asking how best he could serve the coming of the Kingdom, and it was revealed to him that a ministry awaited him in correspondence. He accepted the commission.  For years he has been fulfilling it. He does it with prayer and (as he believes) under guidance. The number of people he has encouraged must, by now, be immense.  He writes to all kinds of folk, to friends, acquaintances, entire strangers, authors of books which have helped him, people in public life who are carrying great responsibilities, to the high and humble, known and unknown, rich and poor. He writes to sick people and speaks of his admiration for their courage. He lets the lonely know that he remembers them. He backs up those who are battling for social righteousness, especially when they are maligned. A letter of comfort from him has soothed a hundred broken hearts. He is a quietly happy man; happy with the happiness of those who found their work…and do it. He offers no advice in his letters and makes it plain that he expects no reply. He specializes in appreciation. There are enough critics, be believes, eager to tell a man where he is wrong.. So often has he been assured of the timeliness of his letters’ arrival that he cannot possibly doubt that he is working with Another.