Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Resistance Is Futile

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’” And the LORD set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.” And the next day the LORD did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go. Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.”’” Then whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the LORD left his slaves and his livestock in the field.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.” Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail.

Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the LORD God.” (The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the emmer were not struck down, for they are late in coming up.) So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and stretched out his hands to the LORD, and the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured upon the earth. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.  (Exodus 9 ESV)

The plagues are told in more rapid fashion now as Pharaoh is unwilling to submit to Yahweh.  The goddesses Hathor (depicted often with the head of a cow), Isis (goddess of healing) and Nut (goddess of the sky) could not prevent Yahweh’s work.  First “all” the livestock (“the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks”) would die from a plague.  Here, “all” cannot mean every single one, because after this the plague of hail kills beasts left in the field.  It likely means some or many of each kind of livestock died.

When Pharaoh disobeys, Yahweh sends boils and even his magicians are afflicted so that they cannot remain in Pharaoh’s presence.  After this Moses goes into more detail about the coming hailstorm plague.  He predicts its severity and even gives a suggestion that those who know this is coming can save themselves and their herds by bringing them under cover, which some do.  The hail destroys people, animals and the flax crop.  At this Pharaoh seems to repent and Moses stops the storm, but immediately Pharaoh hardens his heart.

Moses knew this was coming.  “I know that you do not yet fear Yahweh Elohim,” he says.  Yahweh says through Moses, “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”  God’s plans and purposes involve every living being on earth and even the most powerful among us is not exempt from God’s will.  If we submit to His will we are rescued, but if we resist we are punished.  Once again in these plagues God shows His favor to those who know Him.

Acts 7:51 – “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Ephesians 2:1-3 — Conversations with God

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Father, why did You ever want relationship with me?  Though I was taken to church every Sunday I did not acknowledge Your leadership over my life.  I lived as if You did not exist.  Though some said You were dead, it was really me who was dead. 

I was dead in the sense that I could not move toward You but could only act out of my sinful and rebellious heart.  I was dead in the sense that I was under Your death penalty, a dead man walking, because of my many trespasses and sins.

My dead state was quite to the liking of Your enemy and mine, the devil, Satan, in whose hands is all the world of dead people.  We all prefer our rebellious ways and encourage each other to follow false religions or no religions at all, rather than truly submit to You.

And Satan encourages us as well, holding us captive to do his will.  And so I indulged my flesh and I indulged my mind with all sorts of falsehoods that led me away from You.  I did indeed, deserve Your wrath.  Why did You want relationship with me?

Lessons From the Old Testament: Evil Instruments in a Righteous Hand

O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal— surely you do not plan to wipe us out?  O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins.  But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.  Will you wink at their treachery?  Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they? (Habakkuk 1:12,13)

Habakkuk had been complaining that his own people were living abominable lives and punishment needed to happen.  There was too much injustice, too much suffering by the innocent, for God to let it continue.  But when God told him that He was going to send the Babylonians to punish His people, Habakkuk had a change of heart.  Now God was going too far, using a people even more unrighteous than his own to punish them.

There are two wrong assumptions made here by Habakkuk, and by us too, most likely.

(1) One form of rebellion, because it is more violent and despicable than another, is therefore more deserving of just punishment.  It is true that the more heinous the crime the more severe the punishment (Matthew 10:15), but it is also true that all sin is rebellion and desesrving of just requital (James 2:8-13).  Israel did not deserve to get off the hook because Babylon was more unrighteous than her.

(2) God cannot stand to be in the presence of evil.  This seems true on the face of it, but we find several times in Scripture when God interacts with, even tolerates, evil in His presence.  The most famous example is Satan (see Job 1, 2; Revelation 12:10).  And in fact, every human being with whom God fellowships is evil at his or her base (Jeremiah 17:9,10).

So Habakkuk is unjustifiably upset with God.  God does assure Habakkuk that He will punish Babylon, too (chapter 2).  But He is going to use this unrighteous, horrendously violent juggernaut of a nation to cause Israel to suffer.  He is going to do this because He loves Israel and wants to move them to righteous living.

So then, the real question for Habakkuk and for us becomes, “How do I live through the season of life where God looks like He is absent from the righteous, not answering my prayers for relief, and not doing things the way I think He should do them?”  Habukkuk‘s answer is in chapter 3.

I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear.  My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror.  I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us.  Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!  The Sovereign Lord is my strength!  He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (3:16-19)

He honestly acknowledged that present circumstances were not going to be tenable, acceptable, good.  But he was determined to believe that God was using this for good.  And because of this truth he was going to rejoice in the God of his salvation.  He was not going to rejoice in his sufferings, but in what God was going to do by way of showing off His salvation.  He believed that God was going to prove right and fair in the end and more wise than Habakkuk in His determination to bless those He loved.

Evil instruments in God’s righteous hand means that the evil instrument does not get the last word, but the righteous hand does.

Lessons From the Old Testament: Our Greatest Temptation

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them. (Numbers 25:1-3)

When the  Moabites failed to get Baalam to curse Israel, they came up with this alternate plan of seducing the men, suggested, it seems, by Baalam (Numbers 31:16).  We may imagine that Yahweh was not happy with the men of Israel committing sexual immorality with the Moabite women.  But what really seems to have raised His ire the most was their willingness to embrace the Baal of Peor as well.

What is our greatest temptation?  We really struggle to say whether it is sexual sin or idolatry.  But inevitably the one seems to lead to the other.  What do we do when we are faced with a sexual temptation and want to give in to it?  We rationalize that God’s law regarding sexuality is in need of reinterpretation.  And when we decide that we can go against His law and indulge ourselves regularly, we find our hearts growing cold toward God, the true God who wants to rule our lives, and we substitute a petty god who allows us to feel less guilty but who at the same time steals our hearts from the living God, our true husband.

Israel’s downfall throughout the Old Testament is idolatry.  Try as they might, the prophets, priests and kings of Israel cannot wipe out this proclivity to idolatry.  God tells the Israelites through Moses that they will give in to idolatry to such a degree that He will exile them from the land:

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you…. The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-3,6)

And though God deals with idolatrous Israel’s ups and downs in faithfulness for 700 years, His patience finally reaches an end and He sends them away from the land.

Why are we so drawn to idolatry?  Why are we so willing to make God in our own image?  It is because we are unwilling to trust Him and His direction for our lives and more willing to trust ourselves to get our needs met.  We tell ourselves that our sexual urges are paramount to our existence and so we must disobey God’s leadership in this area.  We tell ourselves that we can’t take a chance on God to provide our sustenance so we look to other means as well to cover all our bases, including asking other gods to feed us (in our day this takes the form of getting assistance from our government, or get rich quick schemes, or credit cards leading to bankruptcy).  We feel confident in our own ability to earn our living and maintain a merely socially acceptable relationship to church and God.  But our lives are not totally sold out to the Creator God who demands our all and provides the means to give our all.

So it seems the Old Testament teaches us that our greatest temptation is idolatry.  It is the one thing that ultimately moved God to divorce Israel (Jeremiah 3:1-13).  This level of unfaithfulness on our part is not only our greatest temptation, it is our greatest downfall in our relationship to God.  It is marked by a failure of gratitude for what God has already done in our lives and a failure of trust in God’s goodness.  How are you being tempted to substitute a lesser God for the One who saved you?

Lessons From the Old Testament: Total Depravity

Cover of "Heart of Darkness (Hesperus Cla...
Cover of Heart of Darkness (Hesperus Classics)

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5)

Where does the Old Testament stand on the condition of human beings?  Are we basically good people?  Are we basically bad?  Without doubt there are tales in the Old Testament of some pretty amazing people who live extraordinary lives.  Some, like Joseph, son of Jacob, seem to demonstrate flawless attitudes and behavior.  But by and large, even our greatest examples of faith and obedience have feet of clay and betray a remarkable penchant for foolishness and wickedness (Just think of Abraham twice telling everyone his wife is his sister and nearly losing her and the promised seed to a pagan).

Incredibly, though, this part of the narrative of history we have in Genesis 6 describes a time when every single human being except Noah and his family could be described as all evil all the time.  How is this possible?  Interestingly, after the flood that destroys this wicked generation, God puts in place some new restraints against such wickedness.  He, in essence, invests human government with some sharp teeth.  He requires men who murder to lose their lives also.  He imposes the death penalty (Genesis 9).  He separates the nations into factions of foreign speakers who cannot understand each other and thus cannot unite to create sinful chaos.

Apparently, without restraints on our behavior human beings will become as evil as possible without exception (except for the grace of God).  As in Joseph Conrad‘s Lord Jim and  Heart of Darkness (or the movie based on this same concept, Apocalypse Now), the further we get away from civilizing forces the more corrupt we become.  God’s testimony to this reality is stated in Jeremiah:

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

Apparently God uses the pressure of punishment, conscience and other human beings acting in righteousness to keep our wicked hearts from being evil continually.  What we think is our superior wisdom and righteousness is really God’s constraint of the image of God in us being put to evil use.  If we put the gifts God gave us  (our reason, emotions and will) to good use with His power, we can do amazing good ( like Joseph did).  But without God’s influence in our lives we will always put His gifts to selfish and abominable use.

David says,

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
(Psalm 51:5)

His individually destructive sins of adultery and murder had their origin at conception.  He was born a sinner and remained a sinner throughout his life, but especially yielded to sin when he felt he was in a place of no restraints.  He was the king of the land.  Who would hold him to account?  Of course, God did through Nathan the prophet.  God brought restraint to David’s life in the form of a righteous man, Nathan, and the workings of David’s own conscience:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
(Psalm 32:3,4)

We are totally depraved people, according to the Old Testament.  That doesn’t mean that we are all completely sold out to sin and incapable of doing anything good.  What it means is that apart from God’s restraining influence in our lives we are all completely sold out to sin and incapable of doing anything good.  Any good we do is a testimony to God’s restraining work in our lives.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Two-Fold Means of Salvation

In Genesis 3:15 God promises to defeat the Tempter, Satan, through an offspring of the woman, Eve, as a means of restoring the lost Garden of Eden, God’s Kingdom.  We are not told what the conflict between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman will look like, but it will be continual until the offspring of the woman bruises (or crushes) the head of the serpent.  With the final finishing off of the serpent there will no longer be an enemy of God and mankind to lead us astray.  This does not address our own ability to lead ourselves astray, but you have the whole rest of the Bible to explain that aspect of it.

What is fascinating is how what follows God’s pronouncements to the serpent, the woman and the man, is a demonstration of the nature of how one finds his or her way back into relationship with God.  We are told that some time after God speaks this way Adam names his wife Eve because she is the mother of all living.  Now it is not that he didn’t understand that Eve was going to have children before the “Fall,” but there seems to be a new sense of urgency and understanding here.  Why didn’t he name her before this event?  The most likely explanation, assuming the naming did follow the disobedience, is that Adam is responding to God’s message of hope in 3:15 with faith.

His faith encompasses the contours of the promise.  The offspring of his wife is going to overcome the offspring of the serpent.  There is going to be perpetual conflict, but it will be resolved with the death of the offspring of the serpent.  This makes all births a potential arena for this conflict.  Who will be the ones who will represent the spirit of rebellion and self-direction that the serpent displayed?  Who will be the ones who stand in harmony with God and against the principles of the serpent?  Whoever they may be Adam has come to believe that this is going to be the agency God uses to restore His kingdom.  And so Adam names his wife in accord with this promise.

The question, however, is this:  Is faith in the promise of God enough to restore us to right relationship with God?  And the answer is, “NO!”  Faith is the key to the restoration of this relationship.  We can’t work hard enough to restore it.  Adam doesn’t go out and begin looking for people to help or in any other way seek to demonstrate that he is now aligned with God.  He trusts God’s words and God’s character, the very thing he failed to do when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see previous post, Lessons From the Old Testament: What Satan Wants For Us).  But it isn’t enough to start doing good and expect that everything is now hunky dory with God.  It is not even enough to demonstrate faith in God’s goodness and promise.  How do we know?

What happens next instructs us that restored relationship with God has another crucial component.  Sacrifice!  In response, it seems, to Adam’s act of faith (naming Eve), God clothes the couple with animal skin.  That, of course, means He had to take the life of the animal or animals in order to get their pelts.  Innocent creatures had to die so that Adam and Eve’s nakedness might be covered.  One life had to be substituted for another.  And though it does not even hint of this, the preparation for the idea of the offspring of the woman being a sacrifice has begun.  The bruising of his heel takes on a new dimension throughout the rest of the Old Testament as we see the insufficiency of animal sacrifice to take away sin beg for something more.  When we reach Isaiah 53 we are given more explicit hope.

So, right here in Genesis we have explained for us the two-fold means of salvation.  We must have FAITH in the promise of God, and this salvation must be paid for by SACRIFICE.  No other religion on the face of the earth has these two requirements.  Every other religion requires works of good deeds as a sort of “payment” to God for our salvation.  And even where forgiveness is offered for failure to perform all that is required, it is never offered on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice that pays the penalty in our place for our own disobedience.  Thus, only Christianity makes possible a salvation that does not depend  on our performance and is thus for everyone, and also shows the absolute severity of the consequences of sin by requiring a just penalty.  That God ends up paying the price Himself is the height of true love meeting the demand of true holiness.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Need for Futility

Adam working in the field. Series History of t...
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To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
(Genesis 3:16,17)

Is it possible that Murphy’s Law is really Yahweh’s Law?  Why is it that what started out as a perfect world is now the farthest thing from perfect?  The author of Ecclesiastes is way more on the mark when it comes to describing life than the positive thinking books of our last century.  “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Why does God impose on Eve and all women pain in childbirth?  The birth of a child should be unmitigated joy.  Bringing a new life into the world should be the apex of all blessings.  But instead it has this aspect to be dreaded.  And it signals that in the raising of children there will be continued opportunities for pain.  Yes, there is crazy joy also, but that is what is so futile about it.  We can’t make sense of such a mixture and though we’ve gotten used to it after all these millennia, it still startles us with its illogical ferocity.

Why does God make the growing of food such a frustrating pain?  Does there always have to be the growth of weeds where you want to grow something useful?  And why do weeds grow better and in more stringent circumstances than the good stuff?  We fight weeds, bugs, bad weather and our own fatigue to put something edible on the table.  We spend millions trying to figure out ways to stop the fertile enemies of our crops.  It’s ridiculous!

But what would happen if life carried on as it was created?  What would happen if families were always healthy, well-fed and free from pain?  Utopia, right?  But the unfortunate thing about a Utiopia, a perfect environment like the Garden of Eden, when it is populated by spiritual rebels against the Creator, is that we will choose to see the perfect environment as the perfect reason to think that we are okay.  And if we are okay, why do we need God?

Christ came to save miserable people, but I’m not miserable.  I’m quite happy with the world and myself as we are.  God may tell me that I need to pay attention to Him for my soul’s sake, but unless I am in pain, I don’t care.  This is why the sage of Proverbs says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD ?’ ” (30:8,9)

It is sad to admit, but I like comfort so much that I will not risk taking strides forward in growth or in pursuing the Lord unless I am in pain.  Unless the prospect of further discomfort is not present in my life I will not seek Him.  I will find all my sufficiency in my life and my perfect environment.  I will convince myself that I do not need God.  As one of our own sages has said, “It is only when I am flat on my back that I am forced to look up.”

Paul told us that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  He told us that even though the whole world is groaning in pain right now because it has been subjected to futility by God, a day is coming in which not only we will be set free from the futility but the world will as well (8:19-23).  Futility pushes us to long for something better.  The world’s futility pushes us to long for a restoration of Eden.  Our own futile enslavement to wrong thinking and acting pushes us to long for renewed minds and bodies.

I desperately need the futility of a painful life.  I need to long for the kingdom and for a perfect relationship to God.  I need the kind of motivation futility brings me.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Futility is the mother of spirituality.