Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Equipped by God

The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.” (Exodus 31:1-11, ESV)

When God gives us a task to perform He also gives us the ability to perform it. It may not be us He gives the ability to personally, but He will give it to our team. God intends us to work as teams and equips individuals differently to provide the various necessities a team has to accomplish its purpose. We are not to presume that our particular ability is supreme.  Rather, because they are all needed, we must understand what value each member brings to the team.

Do you understand what the Spirit of God has equipped you to do? Do you know your purpose? And do you appreciate those around you by knowing their purpose and valuing their gifts and talents? Whether you are Bezalel, Oholiab or one of the many men or women God has given ability to, you are operating as an expression of His abilities, serving in cooperation with His work, to achieve something wonderful and beneficial for your community, maybe even the whole world.

It’s those stately geese I find especially impressive. Winging their way to a warmer climate, they often cover thousands of miles before reaching their destination. Have you ever studied why they fly as they do? It is fascinating to read what has been discovered about their flight pattern as well as their in-flight habits. Four come to mind.

1. Those in front rotate their leadership. When one lead goose gets tired, it changes places with one in the wing of the V-formation and another flies point.

2. By flying as they do, the members of the flock create an upward air current for one another. Each flap of the wings literally creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. One author states that by flying in a V-formation, the whole flock gets 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own.

3. When one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of formation with it and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the struggler until it’s able to fly again.

4. The geese in the rear of the formation are the ones who do the honking. I suppose it’s their way of announcing that they’re following and that all is well. For sure, the repeated honks encourage those in front to stay at it. As I think about all this, one lesson stands out above all others: it is the natural instinct of geese to work together. Whether it’s rotating, flapping, helping, or simply honking, the flock is in it together…which enables them to accomplish what they set out to do.

Chuck Swindoll, letter, October, 1991.

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Slavery

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (Exodus 21:1-11, ESV)

Slavery has always been a harsh reality in our fallen world. Though Yahweh does not abolish slavery in this social context He does regulate it for Hebrews in a way totally contrary to the norms of their culture. Recognizing that some would get into debt they could not pay and resort to selling themselves to another to cover their debt, Yahweh regulates how this is to work among Israelites.

An Israelite can only be held as a slave for six years unless he makes a voluntary choice after that time to be a slave forever. If he doesn’t, he is to be released with no more debt to his owner, he and his family. However, if his master provided him a wife during his slavery from among other slaves he owned, the man cannot take his wife with him out of slavery.

If a man cannot pay a bride price for his daughter but a man wants her as his slave so he can marry her as a secondary tier wife (concubine), the woman is protected. If the owner divorces her he cannot sell her to a foreigner but she must come under the law of manumission after six years as before stated. He is breaking faith with her (failing to keep his covenant vows of marriage) and cannot mistreat her. If someone buys a woman as a wife for his son, she must be treated as a daughter. And if she is one among other wives he must nevertheless continue to provide for her in every way or else she is free to leave with no debt.

Though we might say these laws perpetuate slavery, the real implication here is that Yahweh will determine how we conduct our lives and His concern of love for those who fall into this dilemma bodes the prospect that slavery may one day be abolished. It has been abolished in nations whose populace is majority Christian (though not without a great degree of conflict), but still remains an issue in too many countries. In our own country the laws contained here in the Law of Moses should have taught us how to treat slaves and did eventually lead us away from slavery out of love for fellow humans.  It is to our shame that some among us argued for the maintenance of slavery and the regarding of those enslaved as sub-human.  The slavery we practiced in no way reflected the law of Moses.  There was no provision for release from slavery after 6 years though, in fact, many slaves became followers of Jesus and thus brothers and sisters.

John Woolman was born at Northampton, N. J., in 1720, and died at York, England, in 1772. He was the child of Quaker parents, and from his youth was a zealous member of the Society of Friends. His “Journal,” published posthumously in 1774, sufficiently describes his way of life and the spirit in which he did his work; but his extreme humility prevents him from making clear the importance of the part he played in the movement against slaveholding among the Quakers.

My mind is often led to consider the purity of the Divine Being and the justice of his judgments, and herein my soul is covered with awe.  Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High! Such is the purity and certainty of His judgments that He cannot be partial in our favor.  In infinite love and goodness He has opened our understandings from one time to another concerning our duty towards this people, and it is not a time for delay.  Should we now be sensible of what He requires of us, and through a respect to the private interest of some persons or through a regard to some friendships which do not stand on an immutable foundation, neglect to do our duty in firmness and constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary means to bring about their deliverance, it may be that by terrible things in righteousness God may answer us in this matter.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Eighth Command

God does not endorse the abolition of private property or ownership. If there were no private ownership, there could be no stealing, but “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15, ESV) stands as an endorsement of private ownership. God speaks of things belonging to Him. All that we have is, in one sense, on loan from Him for He owns it all. But by extension, it becomes “ours” and we are responsible for caring for it.

There are many ways to steal. Laban “stole” Jacob’s wages by not “paying” him what he said he would (Genesis 29:15-20). Jacob had already stolen Isaac’s blessing from Esau (Genesis 27:1-46). Potiphar’s wife “stole” Joseph’s reputation by lying about his actions (Genesis 39:7-20). Saul stole Samuel’s priestly prerogative by offering a sacrifice in Samuel’s absence (1 Samuel 13:8-14). Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard by arranging his death and then seizing his property (1 Kings 21). The Pharisees robbed their parents by declaring their possessions “Corban” (devoted to God) so they would not have to provide support for their parents (Mark 7:11-13).

We rob and steal in many of these same ways. We don’t declare taxable income on our tax forms, use company items for personal purposes, copy copyrighted material, spend money for personal pleasures when we owe creditors. 1 Corinthians 6:10 declares that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The thief has denied God’s way of acquiring necessities – honest work. Either he will not trust God to provide his needs or he is selfishly lazy and finds it easier to take what others have worked for. Such a person does not know the love, grace and ownership of God.

What is the positive aspect to this negative command, “You shall not steal”? Ephesians 4:28 gives it to us and gives us what our motive should be as we seek to counteract the temptations to theft:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (ESV)

Generosity made possible by honest labor is the motive opposite to stealing. The thief does not stop being a thief when he stops stealing. He stops being a thief when he starts giving to others from the fruit of his honest work. As we find ourselves tempted to take what belongs to another we should seek to respond in just the opposite way. We should become overly scrupulous about what is not our own, seeking to avoid all appearance of evil. If we have stolen we must make restitution and become generous givers instead of takers.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Helping Our Leaders Lead

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”  (Exodus 17:8-16)

There will always be those who feel they must destroy the “danger” that is the people of God. This has been the conflict through the ages that Yahweh said would happen, the serpent and his “seed” in conflict against the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Amalek is and has been guided by evil principles and so much so that God has determined that this is a people who needs to be blotted out. God made all nations and He alone has the right to make such a determination.

If Israel had any question that Moses was God’s appointed leader for them, that should have been erased by this event, where only when Moses’ hands were raised in prayer for Israel did they prevail. But that Moses cannot do this alone should also be evident. Others must play their parts, like Aaron and Hur and Joshua. The same is true of all leaders and those they lead today. We must know whether they are chosen by God and we must aid them in our common task. Who is your God-appointed leader? What is your God-appointed responsibility to “hold up” his or her hands?

See John Maxwell’s “9 Ways to Lead Your Leader

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What You Were Meant to Do

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:7-12 ESV)

Yahweh has a task for Moses.  He wants Moses to go to Pharaoh and somehow bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, bring them to this very mountain on which Yahweh has appeared to Moses, Mt. Horeb or Sinai as it is known.  God wants Israel to return to the land of the Canaanites, a place they left 400 years earlier under Jacob’s and Joseph’s leadership during famine, but that is now flowing with richness and abundance.

Moses, who was ready some 40 years ago to slay an Egyptian and mediate the conflict between Hebrews, no longer sees himself as leadership material.  “Who am I,” he asks.  God does not answer with how gifted Moses is or how special, or what a great leader he will be, though none of those things are wrong.  He answers with, “I will be with you.”  No matter how gifted we are or special, what is required for successfully serving Yahweh is Yahweh’s determination to make us successful and accomplish His purposes.

Yahweh has seen Israel’s suffering and is ready to respond.  It may bother us that He saw Israel’s suffering 40 or more years before and is only choosing now to act.  But He knows the right time and His response is genuinely motivated by His compassion for His people.  He hears our cries.  In His wisdom He responds when He responds, having laid out for Abraham 400 years earlier that this would be the timing for Abraham’s offspring to be enslaved in Egypt.  He sees the bigger picture so we must trust Him with the timing.

In one scene from the movie Superman, Clark Kent is upset after a football game in which he was reduced to being a manager. He possesses supernatural powers yet must hide them from peers who don’t accept him because he is not a star, only a team manager. Kent’s father slips an arm around the soon-to-be Superman and says, “Son, you are here for a special reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I know one thing—it’s not to score touchdowns.”

Knowing what God has called you for is more than knowing your abilities and gifts.  It is listening to Him as He speaks into your soul what He wants you to do.  Maybe it is correcting something grossly amiss.  Maybe it is encouraging people who have no one in their corner.  Maybe it is providing leadership where there is none.  The point is, what He calls you to do He will equip you to do and be with you in the doing.

Daily Thoughts From Exodus: Holy Insubordination

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”  (Exodus 1:15-22 ESV)

Satan, the serpent of old, seeks to kill and destroy God’s people, and through the Pharaoh of Egypt he attempts to exterminate Israel by killing off her sons.  Pharaoh seeks to enlist the aid of the Hebrew midwives, perhaps because an outright slaughter would bring some resistance from his own people.  Paul tells us to obey the authorities God has put in place over us but he does not mean to obey them in contradiction to God, and even as the apostles John and Peter disobeyed the Sanhedrin when they told them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh.

But to protect themselves the midwives made up a lie about Hebrew women and their birth practices.  Pharaoh’s prejudice against Hebrews made him susceptible to believing that their women were different than other women and didn’t need midwives, something obviously contradicted by the fact that there were so many Israelites identified as midwives.  God blessed these lying midwives with families of their own.  Apparently childless women often became midwives to help those who could have children, a sad and ironic practice taken one way or, taken another way, a chance to celebrate with others what you could not experience yourself.

It is sometimes okay to lie, as when a threat is made against you or those you love by someone violating God’s will.  Would God have protected them if they had told the truth?  Perhaps.  But Pharaoh did not deserve the truth, just as an assailant breaking into your home and asking if anyone else is there does not deserve the truth.  There is a hierarchy of values, obedience to God, for example, taking precedence of obedience to a divinely permitted authority.  And protecting people takes precedence over telling the truth.  Those who have sought to rescue Jews during the Nazi regime or to rescue slaves during the Civil War era, understood and practiced this.

Pharaoh does not quit in his quest to decimate Israel.  Now he commands the mothers and fathers themselves to drown their sons in the Nile.  Allowing newborns to die like this was the equivalent of modern day abortion and widely practiced in many nations.  But it was not practiced in Israel and was abominable to God.  And these mothers wanted their children.  How many Israelites complied we do not know, but we’ll see that one mother refused to submit to Pharaoh’s command.

A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 1

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

oil on wood panel
oil on wood panel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been referred to as the Cultural Mandate.  It is a requirement from God of all human beings that we reproduce ourselves in order to fill the earth and subdue it.  God built a planet we call Earth capable of sustaining many billions of people and He wants us, commands us, to rule over it in a way that in fact does sustain us.  This requires work, effort on our part, to successfully accomplish the utilization of Earth’s resources in a way that pleases God and brings life to Earth’s population — us.

Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3) God gave them work to do (Genesis 2) that included taking care of the Garden of Eden (2:15) and understanding and overseeing the animals of this area (2:19,20).  This responsibility did not cease after man’s rebellion, but became fraught with frustration as the ground began to work against man’s best efforts to grow food.  In the process human beings developed systems for raising livestock, growing food, producing music and forging tools (Genesis 4), all of which were necessary for our health and development as divine-image replicators.

In contrast to the pagan notions of man’s responsibilities, God did not create us to be His slaves and do all His dirty work.  He made us to be presidents to His chief executive role, vice-regents to His kingly rule, and managers for His owner-operated business.  There are at least three implications to this Cultural Mandate:

  • We are workers under divine appointment

We are not independent contractors.  The work we are called to do is or should be determined by God.  We are responsible for knowing what kind of work would be acceptable to Him in faithfully caring for His world and each other.  We may say that providing prostitution, or drugs, or control over other people is providing a service, but it is not the kind of service God says helps His world thrive.  And of course, He knows best what will make us thrive.  Our work must be of the kind that furthers the honor of God and the welfare of mankind.  This is His world and we are asked to share in making it livable.

  • We are stewards of God’s green earth

A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s property.  His or her responsibility is not to own it but to develop it for the sake of the owner.  It just so happens in this case that the owner, God, has made us partners in the ownership, but nevertheless, He is the principle owner.  So our work must serve to develop and utilize, not exploit for ourselves, the world He has given us.  This means we must use arts and technology wisely and lovingly to reflect the character of God and benefit our race (see Lessons from the Old Testament: Arts and Technology).  It must certainly mean that we do not so exploit our world that we make it less habitable or reduce its quality of livability.

  • The more of us there are, the more work that needs to be done

We were made to care for each other the way God cares for us.  So as we multiply we need to create better systems for caring for each others’ needs for food, shelter, beauty, clothing and protection.  Our goal cannot be personal wealth but public weal, the prosperity and well-being that we can secure for all people.  And though it might be argued that capitalism is the best system in a fallen world for such public weal, sinners always find a way to take personal advantage of even the best systems to the detriment of others, and those who submit to God look for ways no matter the system to help others thrive.

Are you a plumber?  You are helping me and our whole culture thrive.  Do you grow food, deliver and sell food, make clothes, sell insurance, pave roads, build buildings, serve in government, paint pictures, make music, heal, administer funds, advocate for lawbreakers, develop community laws, cut hair, raise livestock, put out fires or any number of other “professions”?  You are working as God’s appointees to tend His world and people in ways that make it possible for us to fill the earth.  You are so cool, because the part that you play combined with the part that I play and all of us play makes possible a relatively peaceful and prosperous life.  We are caring for each other under God’s wise direction, and that’s what makes the world go round.

For further reading:

What is the Cultural Mandate?

The Cultural Mandate

What the Cultural Mandate Means for Your Work

Video and Resources from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City