Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Sin Like Weeds

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.”  (Numbers 33:50-56 ESV)

God can’t be more clear that Israel’s future depends on clearing out all the enemies of Canaan in obedience to Him.  He is using Israel as the tool of His judgment on these nations.  The issue is idolatry.  Israel must destroy all their idols and elevated shrines for worship and all the idolaters.  Otherwise their influence will become an irritant that Israel will be unable to ignore and she will fall into the same sin and receive the judgment God had reserved for the Canaanites.

Our greatest problem is being caught up in the thinking of the world, its idolatry, and succumbing to viewing God as just one among many sources of life, or no source at all.  We must “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we [must] take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  If we nourish any sin in our thinking it will demolish us.

It is said that many years ago the small farmers of Scotland were a very superstitious people. They would leave a corner of their fields uncultivated in order to pacify certain evil spirits. They believed that by sacrificing this one corner to the spirits, the remainder of the field would be left undisturbed and yield good results.  But what happened, in fact, of course, was that the uncultivated corner produced a crop of weeds and when the wind blew, it scattered those weeds across the whole field.  The whole field suffered because of weeds in one corner.  And so with the Christians life. One sin which is allowed to dominate can infect a man’s whole life, ruin his character, and negate completely his witness for God.  The Hidden Hand, International Bible Encyclopedia, Thomas


Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What Makes God Angry

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”

The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made. (Exodus 32:15-35, ESV)

The consequences of idolatry are severe. Moses’ destruction of the tablets of stone is symbolic of the way the Israelites, with Aaron’s help, have destroyed the covenant. Moses’ anger reflects Yahweh’s anger.  Oh that our anger burned as hot in regards to idolatry, in our own lives and the lives of others.

Aaron attempts to deflect blame from himself but his explanation is ridiculous. The path to restoration from the sin is fully owning up to or confessing one’s guilt, not trying to minimize it. The other Levites, on the other hand, stand with Moses against the idolatry and slay those at Yahweh’s command who have been guilty. Yahweh sends a plague to slay the rest who were guilty. Moses is willing to sacrifice himself for the people, another example of his humility, but God wants justice for those to whom justice is due.

Nothing must stand in the way of our worship of the true and living God. No false representation of who He is must be allowed in our worship. He is the sovereign God whom we cannot control and He will be worshiped in truth only.  How dare we offer up what we call worship to a God as we have perceive He ought to be and expect anything less than His wrath.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Your Promised Land

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

“But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

“When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” (Exodus 23:20-33, ESV)

The word “angel” means “messenger” and Yahweh says here that this messenger who is going to accompany Israel and guard them on the way has His name, Yahweh, in him. The nation must be careful to obey this messenger and if they do they will have complete victory over all enemies. It is quite likely that this messenger is the Son, the pre-incarnate Jesus (before he took on human nature), the second person of the Trinity.

Yahweh promises that in Canaan, if Israel worships Him alone and makes no covenants with any in the land, that He will remove all their enemies and make them supernaturally prosperous, with no miscarriages, abundant supply of food, and eventually a homeland that stretches from the Red Sea that He miraculously enabled them to cross, to the Euphrates River in the north. Though Israel’s record of obedience will be quite spotty, in the day of Solomon Yahweh will nevertheless give Israel a time of prosperity much like this and land dimensions like this.

Yahweh also acknowledges the mutual dependence of the ecosystems He created and explains that He will not immediately drive out the current inhabitants lest the land get overrun with wild beasts.  God is the ultimate ecologist.

There is so much God wants to do for us and so little we trust Him for. In our covenant with Him He has not promised perfect prosperity, despite the teachings of prosperity gospel preachers, but He has promised to use us to spread the kingdom message to the whole world and see the powers of the kingdom irrupting into this present age.  He is not immediately bringing the kingdom but using us to “conquer” territory from the devil little by little.  And there is always the need to maintain the conquered land.  Where do you see idolatry rampant in your sphere of influence?  What is your plan under God for taking it in His name?  May we trust Him for our Canaan victories, our promised land.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Second Command addendum

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (20:5, ESV).

God is a jealous husband. His wife, His people, cannot “hate” Him and not suffer consequences. God will see to it that the natural consequences of parents building false values into their children’s lives will continue to the fourth generation. This is not to say that He may not sovereignly save individuals from among those generations, but there is no promise that He will. When men reject the true image of God as sovereign in their lives, He exercises His sovereignty in judgment.

“…but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (20:6, ESV).

This is the promise to those who obey the second commandment. God will bless their generations with the grace to come to the knowledge of the true God. No amount of godly training alone can bring a person to Christ. Only God can turn hearts toward Himself. No idol of man’s making, no God fashioned in man’s image has such sovereign control.

Even if we don’t worship a fashioned likeness of God, we may still be operating with a purposely distorted image of Him. The Pharisees fashioned a God of rigid standards (true to an extent) that they believed they could keep and therefore expected certain rewards from Him. What false images of God have you constructed?

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Second Command

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4).

Whereas the first commandment was a prohibition against worshiping anyone other than God, this commandment focuses more on how one is to worship God. It deals with the habit in fallen man of seeking to make God into an image he can cope with and feel some control over.

The original sin of Adam was to want to be God and rule his own life. Ever since that fall, we have sought to rid ourselves of God’s authority. Our most subtle technique for doing so is refashioning our image of God. By viewing God as someone who is more like a human we can now think of ways to manipulate Him. This soon devolves into magical thinking, believing that if we can figure out the characteristic of this God and make an image like that characteristic, we have somehow captured God in the image. Having an idol of one’s god is therefore having a way to control Him. That tangible object becomes for us a sacred relic which binds us to our god and our god to us.

This is why Protestants have always been suspicious of relics and statues and icons used by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Though they can be told over and over that such things have no special power, it is most easy for us to begin to invest them with special power.  But vestiges of this wrong perspective can be seen in superstitions about how to get God to hear us or objects we invest with “magical” power.

Our most subtle idolatry consists, however, of distorted views of God that shape our practice of our faith.  For example, the wrong belief made most obvious in Job is that God will always reward in this life our obedience or punish our disobedience.  Job, his friends believe, is suffering because he has been disobedient.  If this is true it enables believers to determine their future and the way God must respond based on our behavior.  A version of this is the prosperity gospel with its belief that God is most concerned about our prosperity and if we have enough faith in Him He will honor all our requests for healing, riches and success. Psalm 73 gives expression to this view and the corrective Asaph, the psalmist, learned when God would not be controlled by his requirements of God and Asaph nearly then lost his faith.

God will not be controlled by any human.  No image can capture Him.  He is the incomparable sovereign of the universe before whom we must always bow and worship in truth.

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.

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.”