Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Your Advocate

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, 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 Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:1-14, ESV)

Yahweh tells Moses that the people have “turned aside quickly” and for certain it did not take long for them to go back on their word to Yahweh that they would do all He told them to do. How could they think that this was in any way the right thing to do. Aaron is too complicit in their request, though he tries to put a positive spin on things by saying there will be a feast to Yahweh.

The calf is a symbol of fecundity or fertility and many believe that the “play” that they engaged in was sexual in nature, a way of recreating or replaying God’s fertilizing of the earth. Yahweh is ready to destroy them for this stiff-necked rebellion, but Moses saves their skin by appealing to God’s covenant with their forefathers. It appears that Yahweh is testing Moses here to see how he will respond. Does he love this people or is he willing to let God make a great nation of him. Of course God knows what is in Moses’ heart but it is important for Moses to see what he will choose in this situation, and he chooses well.

It is important to see the hardness of our own hearts and to appeal to God for softening of them. We have an interceder on our side, as well, Jesus Christ the righteous one (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 7:25).  Satan accuses us day and night before our God (Revelation 12:10).  But we’re told that Jesus always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34).  What do you suppose Jesus is saying to His Father on our behalf?  Would that he could say what he said about Job, that there is no one like him, blameless and upright, who fears God and shuns evil (Job 1:8).  But even if not, Jesus paid the price for us with his blood and he will let no one snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28).

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God;

He, to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood.

(second verse of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson, 1757)

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Dealing with Discouragement

But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

So the LORD said to Moses, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” But the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge about the people of Israel and about Pharaoh king of Egypt: to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.  (Exodus 6:1-13 ESV)

Moses had asked Yahweh why He had not delivered Israel at Moses’ first request of Pharaoh, who made Israel’s slavery all the harder for the request.  Yahweh explains that He has a plan to show Pharaoh His power, bringing misery to Pharaoh to the point where Pharaoh expels Israel.  He rehearses the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them Canaan as their property.  And it is not that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not know His name, Yahweh, but He had not revealed Himself as fully as He had to Moses, tying His name into the fulfilling of the covenant.

God’s promises are amazing: I will bring you out, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people, I will be your God, and you will know that I am Yahweh Elohenu, Yahweh your God, as I bring you into the promised land.

Despite the affirmation, however, when Moses repeats this to Israel they refuse to listen.  They fear being disappointed again.  Even Moses has to be pushed by God to go back to Pharaoh with God’s message.  He doesn’t really believe it either.  This is the perpetual struggle of God’s people.  Knowing Him excites us and that initial feeling carries us until the first or subsequent seeming failures of God to come through for us.  We feel like fools for trusting Him and hesitate to lean on Him again.  But God is teaching us to trust Him for the long haul.  Will we?

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played the University of California in the Rose Bowl.  In the first half, Roy Reigels recovered a fumble for California, but he became confused about direction and ran the wrong way.  One of his teammates tackled him just yards before he scored for the opposing team.  When California tried to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety, which became the winning margin.  During halftime, the Cal players sat quietly, waiting to hear what the coach had to say. He was uncharacteristically quiet.  Riegals put his blanket around his shoulders, stayed in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.  Three minutes before playing time, Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.”  The players filed onto the field, but Riegels did not budge.  “Roy didn’t you hear me?” the coach asked?  Riegals responded, “I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”  Coach Price put his hand on Roy’s shoulder and said, “Roy get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” Tech men to this day will tell you they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.

May we likewise not give in to discouragement when it seems God is not coming through for us but play with all the more enthusiasm knowing that the game is only half over.  No matter what the outcome of this day, tomorrow holds the promise of God’s kingdom pervading all and changing everything.  That day is coming.

Running the Race (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 12-14)

In the Greek games there was an event called the stade race.  The stade was a measurement of distance and it was run in a straight line half a stade with a 180 degree return back.  Sometimes there was a pole at one end to grab and swing around to return to the finish line.  Runners were encouraged to throw their arms out in front of them to increase their speed.  As in any footrace, looking back to see how far ahead you were could mean the loss of just enough speed to lose the race.  The winner of the race would be called up upon a raised platform by the priest of Zeus and receive a garland crown in Zeus’ honor.

Paul was looking forward to the “prize of the upward call of God” (literal translation of “prize for which God has called me heavenward”) to receive the victor’s crown made possible by God Himself (He enables us to will and to do His good pleasure, 2:13).  But the worst thing he could do while in the race was to look back on what he had accomplished.  To lean on his accomplishments was tantamount to living as if it were his righteousness that got him there.  He had counted his righteousness as rubbish (3:7-9).

So the right perspective for the believer was not the pursuit of perfectionism accomplished in one’s own power, but the pursuit of what Christ had laid hold of him for, to become righteous with the righteousness of Jesus himself.  That meant forgetting what was behind, the distance he had already covered in the race, and straining for what was ahead, the finish line, the resurrection from the dead, the upward call to God given to all victors in Christ.

Whenever we get focused on what we have achieved in our Christian lives we have lost focus on Christ.  There is always more that He has called us to.  Perfection is His only standard because, after all, how could He condone less than pure love and holiness?  But even though perfection is not obtainable in this life, for surely Paul would have attained it, it is what we want to be.  We want to be like Jesus and He wants us to be like Him.

The true gospel around which we should unite ourselves is the one that focuses on progress, not proficiency.

Fellowship With Jesus (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 10,11)

When Jesus spoke those burning words to two disciples walking to Emmaus, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26), He laid out forever the path all His followers will have to walk if they want to have fellowship with him.  Do we want to know the power of His resurrection?  Then we must first know the pain of his sufferings and become like him in His death.  First comes suffering and then comes glory.

I have yet to experience the fullness of what Peter and John experienced when they were beaten at the command of the Sanhedrin and the “apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, but I am hesitant to get excited and rejoice over suffering disgrace for His Name.

And yet, this is Paul’s desire.  He is wanting to know Christ in this way.  He is currently in jail as he writes because of his willingness to suffer with and for Christ.  He is ready to die, if need be, in order to bring glory to his Savior.  Though he doesn’t say it directly here, we know that his motive is gratitude for the rescue Jesus has done in his life, saving him from trying to face God with a righteousness of his own instead of that which comes from God by faith in Christ.  Another motive he states plainly here is so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead.

This raises questions for those of us who believe the Scriptures teach that one can never earn nor lose one’s salvation.  Does Paul believe he has to suffer with Christ in order to attain to the resurrection?  Does he doubt that if he does not pursue this course he will be refused resurrection?  Yes and no.

Paul believed all who were true believers would be willing to suffer persecution with Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).  He didn’t presume that no believer would struggle with the fear of such a decision.  That is why in the beginning of this letter he was counting on help from the Philippians’ prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit (1:19).   He didn’t believe that after all this time serving Jesus he would quit now, but he knew and taught that true believers are enabled both to will and to do God’s good pleasure and would persevere in their faith (2:13).

Do you want fellowship with Jesus?  Of course you do.  Do you want to suffer?  Of course you don’t.  But if it comes to a choice of sharing in the life of Jesus or avoiding suffering, I believe we both will choose Jesus.

The Obedience of Unity (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 12,13)

I have heard several people lately talking about working their 12-step program.  When I hear this I am not supposing that they are writing or producing their own program, but rather are taking the program that everyone else is following and applying it to themselves.  However, when we hear Paul say “work out your salvation” there is a little more ambiguity as to his meaning.  In some contexts where Paul uses this particular word (katargeo), it has more the idea of causing or producing something.  For example, in Romans 7:13 he says it was not the commandments but sin that “worked” death in him, that is, that produced or caused spiritual death in him  In another verse, Romans 7:18, he remarks that though he has the desire to do what is right he does not have the ability to “work” it.  In this case Paul doesn’t mean he can’t produce what is right, since that is already established, but that he can’t act in accordance with what is right.

The ambiguity that attends this word forces us to make a decision as to what Paul means when he says here, “work out your salvation.”  Does he mean cause or produce your salvation, or does he mean act in accordance with your salvation, that is, consistent with it.  The one would mean we are still in need of salvation and can achieve it by working God’s good pleasure, in this case, particularly, living in unity with fellow believers.  The other would mean we already have salvation and need to act consistently with it, again, in this context, by living in unity with fellow believers.  The only way to determine which meaning is correct is to have an overall understanding of what Paul teaches regarding how one gains salvation.

From this letter itself we may see very clearly in 3:4-9 that Paul rejected his own accomplishments as a Pharisee, even though his righteousness based on the Law was faultless.  He considered his previous accomplishments rubbish and leaving him in need of a righteousness not of his own making but that which came from God.  He wanted and needed the righteousness that came from God on the basis of faith.  And when we look outside of Philippians we find even more ample evidence that Paul did not believe that anyone could produce their own salvation by working (Romans, Galatians, et al).

Nevertheless, we are to work on living out our salvation  consistently “with fear and trembling.”  Again, we can see this as a strong expression for reverential trust, in which case Paul is saying that we should trust that God is the one helping us work out our salvation, rather than attributing our success to ourselves.  But Paul may mean by this that there is an appropriate fear we should have knowing that God is helping us work out our salvation.  By that he would mean that all true believers have God working in them this way and so will give evidence of God’s in-working by the way they out-work their already possessed salvation.

Just as Paul felt confident that God would complete the work he had seen done in the Philippians because they had given evidence of this working from the very beginning 1:6), so here he would be reminding them that the evidence they demonstrate by living in unity with one another gives them confidence of their salvation.  The absence of such evidence would be cause for fear and motivate them to determine whether they really were in the faith.  In the present moment the Philippians are caught up in conflict and need to consider whether the gospel is their most important priority, whether indeed they are living consistently with salvation in Christ.

The kind of work God does in believers is a full-service work.  He not only works in them the willingness to do His good pleasure, but also gives them the ability to do His good pleasure.  We need both.  If all He did was make us able to do His will, but we didn’t necessarily desire to do it, that would be an incomplete kind of obedience.  That would be robotic obedience.  If we were willing to do it but could not, the good motive in itself would be a very incomplete kind of obedience.  That would be futility.

It may seem shocking to us that we don’t have the ability either to desire God’s will nor the ability to do God’s will apart from His enablement.  It certainly seems that it is our own desire and ability that leads us to obey.  But that is the mystery and seeming lack of coercion that the sovereign working of God accomplishes in us.  It is fully us obeying and fully God making us capable of obeying.  Indeed, we will get the rewards for obedience even though without Him we could not have done it.  We will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ (1:11) though He bore that fruit in us.

For further study:

Video adaptation of a message by John Piper