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

Ephesians 5:22-24 — Conversations with God

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Lord Jesus, I’m a husband and so are You.  My wife is to be subject to me as we, the church, are to You.  I dare say my wife has done a way better job of being subject to me than the church has to You.  That is as much a praise of my wonderful wife as it is an indictment of me as a part of Your church.  You have earned the right to have a submissive “wife” by becoming our Savior.  Forgive us for not being more submissive and obedient.

I don’t know, Lord, that I have earned my wife’s submission, but she has freely given it and trusted me beyond my trustworthiness.  Perhaps that trust has helped me become more trustworthy.  I want to be as wise and loving a leader of her as You are of us.

Being a follower of someone else, whose leadership might result in financial failures, unhealthy responses to stress, and less than godly paths, is an exercise in trusting You, really.  You are the one who put people in authority in our lives.  You know how subject to failure all leaders are, especially husbands.  Help my wife by helping me be a more stalwart “head” to her, and in so doing help me be a better, more submissive “spouse” to You.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Perfect Form of Government

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 21:25)

Does the Old Testament give us an ideal or perfect form of government to strive for?  Yes and No.

If we look at the form of government that existed prior to the flood, the Scriptures are not very descriptive of what governance there was.  There had to be some, but we are only told what God added to the scope of human governance in Genesis 9.  Here He introduces the concept of capital punishment for those who take human life.  When Cain killed Abel he was not killed but God marked him and exiled him.  However, now, those who kill another will be killed by the state.

In other words, it seems God tailors the form of government to the extent of mankind’s evil.  No government is perfect or ideal because human rebelliousness makes it all for naught.  When Israel is confederated as a nation they enter Canaan as a loose union of tribes with their own leadership structure (elders and judges).  The Judges rule over their various scopes of influence (a tribe or two) but not the whole nation.  The author of Judges makes a point that there was no king in those days and that everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

When the people ask Samuel to give them a king and reject him as judge (1 Samuel 8), Samuel and God both characterize their request as a desire to get out from under God’s rule:

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.  And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (1 Samuel 8:6-9)

Nevertheless, God gives them a king and all predictions of the coming Messiah now make him out as the one who will rule on the throne of his father David.  Deuteronomy 12 even anticipates this, though it was written before Israel conquered Canaan and gave up the governance by judges.

So if there is a perfect form of government (and there isn’t because there is no perfect human group to governed as yet), it is that government that best keeps in check human sinfulness.  The only reason the American form of government has worked as successfully as it has is because our founding fathers took seriously the depravity of humans and built checks on human abuse of power into our system.  Even these have not been enough to prevent all such abuse.  The human heart is also sneeky and finds ways to corrupt the best of governments.

One day Jesus will rule over all the world and his governing will be perfect, the servant leader who rules in righteousness and is never corrupted by power.  But even in his kingdom, in its early stages, that is, he will have rebellious subjects who will try to overthrow Him in a coup (Revelation 20).  They will fail.  Not until humankind’s sin is totally eradicated by the resurrection will be able to be fully governed in righteousness.

Lessons From the Old Testament: Leadership

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
Image via Wikipedia

It is difficult to overestimate the weight God gives to leadership in the Old Testament.

It begins with Adam, who is the representative leader for all of mankind.  His decision to act in accord with Eve’s reasoning about the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has plunged us into incalculable suffering and an unmitigated history of rebellion against our Creator.  But there is the promise of a leader, the seed of the woman, who will come and bruise the head of the serpent to restore God’s kingdom to earth.  And the rest of history is the unfolding of many such leaders, offspring of the woman, who fulfill that role in part until Jesus comes.

And so the actions of Abraham, Moses and Joshua become paradigms for how leadership can affect the welfare of many people.  In their cases, they flesh out for us a mostly godly pattern of leadership.  They act in accord with God’s desire to bless His people rather than a self-centered meeting of their own needs and desires.  When they step out of this God-centered, faith-motivated place, they suffer and those they lead suffer.

The book of Judges is a chronicle of the gradual demise of godly leadership in Israel.  Though Deborah seems a paragon of virtuous leadership, others begin showing self-aggrandizing ways all too quickly.  Gideon starts well, but the ephod he has crafted from the spoils of victory becomes a stumbling block to Israel as they involve it in idolatrous worship.  Samson never does seem to get it together until the very end.  And the foolishness of Jephthah and others continues throughout the account until we see paganization, moral decay and disunity among the tribes rampant.

One bright spot in this picture is the life of Ruth and Boaz.  Both exemplify unselfish concern for others.  They become the ancestors of King David, who replaces the initially selfless King Saul and who reigns for a season with great wisdom and success.  It is only when he seeks something for himself and abuses his authority to get it that the problems begin for him and those around him.   There is restoration but there are also consequences.

The story of the kings of Judah and Israel are really tales of godly or ungodly leadership.  If the king rules as a steward of God’s grace, loving His people more than himself and loving God rather than false gods, the Lord brings prosperity to Israel.  But if not, God follows the conditions of the covenant and brings progressively greater disciplines into the lives of His people.

When God finally exiles his people from the land, it is still leadership that makes the difference in exile.  Men and women like Daniel, Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah heed the voice of God and choose to sacrifice their own wills and agendas in order to save their people.

God uses leaders!  The Old Testament is clear evidence of that.  The kind of leaders He uses is a richly rewarding study as we lay out the evidence before us and evaluate it in light of what godly leadership looks like.

Lessons From the Old Testament: God’s Judgment

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Genesis 6:11-13)

God does not kill Cain for murdering his brother.  We see no punishment for Lamech‘s boastful claim to kill a man for wounding him.  But here, when it becomes apparent that all the earth is sold out to disobedience and corruption, God tells Noah that he is going to kill everyone on earth.  We see this again when Israel is heading toward Canaan to completely destroy man, woman and child in obedience to God’s command (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).  Is God a God of love or a God of judgment?  And the answer must be yes.  He is both.

Even against His own people God leveled a stunning series of judgments while they were traveling from Egypt to Canaan.  When His people or any other human beings who owe their existence to God choose to rebel and to reject the God who provides for them, God will eventually bring some form of judgment to bear on them.  At the same time, God Himself says,

“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)

God punishes to the third and fourth generation those who hate Him, but he shows love to a thousand generations of those who obey Him (Exodus 20:5,6).  His judgment is His “strange” work (Isaiah 28:21).  It is not the norm of His heart or His behavior.  But He will not hesitate if justice calls for judgment.

What kind of God would He be if He did not measure out justice?  What kind of world would we have if justice were not carried out?  Couldn’t God just forgive and forget?  Couldn’t He merely ignore those who rebel and bless those who obey?  Wouldn’t that be enough to show people the benefits of obedience and be a more appropriate demonstration of God’s love?

Apparently not.  God’s own character won’t stand for rebellion.  And we won’t either.  When we see the results of someone’s evil perpetrated in the life of another, are we content to simply reward those who did not perpetrate evil, or do we feel within us the demand for justice?  We are just like God (yes, we are made in His image) and our concept of justice comes from Him.  He understands the evil of those He punishes or asks others to punish.

Though we may not be able to see the justice of God’s judgment, we may trust that He is judging fairly.  And if we are prone to see the evil in others and assume that they deserve judgment, we must exercise the discretion of the Old Testament saints and leave vengeance in the hands of God.   David may have prayed for the destruction of his enemies, but he did not act on that himself.  Paul’s quote, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” in Romans 12 is from Deuteronomy 32:35.

Lessons From the Old Testament: What God Wants For Us

So God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       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 of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:27,28

Pagan creation accounts represent the gods creating humans as their servants to do things the gods themselves don’t want to do, and getting upset with humans for being too noisy.  The Genesis account stands as a stark contrast and lets us know that God, the true God, really has quite a different perspective on us humans.

Humans are created in God’s image.  What an amazing statement!  In some sense God goes out of His way to make humans with a special quality, the quality of being like God.  Theologians and philosophers, exegetes and Bible students, have wrestled long over the meaning of this concept.  Is the image of God in humans the ability to think, feel and decide?  Is it righteous character?  Is it the ability to have personal relationship?  Or is it the right to rule over the earth with God?  It seems best to include all these ideas in the concept of being made in God’s image. 

We see the ability to think, feel and decide as an aspect of the divine image in Isaiah 1:3 where God compares the people of Israel to a donkey because, despite their superior intellect, they do not have as much sense as the donkey when it comes to recognizing who “butters their bread.”  We see the aspect of righteous character referred to by Paul in Ephesians 4:24 of “the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”  We see the relational aspect of God’s image throughout the Scriptural emphasis on God’s desire to have a loving relationship with humans.  And we see in this very Genesis context the aspect of rulership with God when the Lord tells humans to “subdue the earth.”

God wants us to rule with Him.  He does not give up rulership of the earth, as plenty of Scriptures tell us (for example, Psalm 50:10).  But He wants to share dominion over the earth with us.  He is not content to relegate us to a minor role in the earth, but desires to elevate us to the highest position.  David marvels at this in Psalm 8 where he says,

What is man that You are mindful of him,
         And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
         And You have crowned him with glory and honor. (verses 4,5)

So right here, at the very beginning of the Bible, God wants to make sure that we know how much He thinks of us and wants for us.  Though sin in our lives has caused us to fail on many counts at co-ruling with God, He still desires it for us.  He wants us to look to Him for guidance on ruling the earth as good stewards with Him of it’s precious resources.  But the fact is He wants to partner with us because He values us above all of His creation.  Don’t ever doubt that God has nothing but good will for humans.  We are His princes and princesses if we want to be.  All this is possible, of course, through a redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ, whose rulership is our example and promise.  In Him we become the rulers God always meant us to be.