Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Pitfalls of Prejudice

These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi; these are the clans of Reuben. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the clans of Simeon. These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years. The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their clans. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years. The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites according to their generations. Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years. The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri. Aaron took as his wife Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab and the sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the clans of the Korahites. Eleazar, Aaron’s son, took as his wife one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites by their clans.

These are the Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said: “Bring out the people of Israel from the land of Egypt by their hosts.” It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing out the people of Israel from Egypt, this Moses and this Aaron.

On the day when the LORD spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, the LORD said to Moses, “I am the LORD; tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?”  (Exodus 6:14-30 ESV)

It seems odd to us to stop in the middle of this narrative of events to give a genealogy of the main characters of the events (Moses and Aaron).  But it is critical from an Israelite viewpoint because God has made promises along genealogical lines and the house of Levi will be granted the priesthood in Israel.  So the pedigree of Moses and Aaron must be given to establish their origins and we also have highlighted for us the origins of some key players in the near future (the sons of Korah and Phineas).

The kingdom of God is inextricably linked to Israel.  God’s promise to Abraham that He would bless all nations through him is still in play.  God has sent the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), the Messiah, through the line of Israel and particularly through Judah and David.  We cannot understand what God is doing if we leave out the Jews.  Of all the peoples of the earth they will be at the forefront of God’s establishment of His rule once again on earth.  All non-Jewish peoples, the Gentiles, are brought into the kingdom on the coattails of Israel, being grafted into this vine (Romans 11) and made partakers of God’s promises.

This has implications for how we view all peoples.  We are so prone to prejudice, to pre-judging a people based on their appearance, ethnicity, language and beliefs.  From God’s perspective, however, we are all just different brands of the same product and equally loved.  His plan for all of us centers around Israel but is impartial toward all people.  Bias against anyone is like telling God He made a mistake…it is stupid.

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.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Benefits of Misery

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”

So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (Exodus 5 ESV)

Yahweh had told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart to resist Yahweh’s command, and sure enough Pharaoh derisively denounces the name of Yahweh and his responsibility to obey Him.  Moses and Aaron say, “Thus says Yahweh,” but Pharaoh’s representatives say, “Thus says Pharaoh,” setting up a battle between the two to show who has ultimate authority.

The people of Israel are understandably upset and even Moses has trouble understanding why God is doing what He is doing.  What Moses does not see is that Israel needs to recognize just how miserable their lot is in Egypt.  Are they servants of Pharaoh or servants of Yahweh?  Will they trust Yahweh despite the circumstances seeming to the contrary of what God has promised them?  Will they follow Moses as Yahweh’s spokesman?  In order to see where we must go we need to see first where we must leave.  Is my current lifestyle keeping me from truly following God’s lead and accomplishing His purposes?  I need to see how inadequate my current lifestyle is before I will be attracted to God’s calling.  I need to see how bad off I am before I am willing to make major changes to seek something better.

The process of realizing how miserable you are before you take positive action and institute radical change works in every aspect of our lives.  I don’t get knee replacement surgery until I can hardly walk.  I don’t quite smoking until I can hardly breathe.  I don’t learn how to stop hurting my relationships until I’m all alone.  It is a shame that we cannot see the way forward until we have totally explored all other directions and come up lost.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Pushing God to the Limits

Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” And the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.

And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”

At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

The LORD said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.  (Exodus 4:18-31 ESV)

Moses appears to be obeying Yahweh now, parting with his father-in-law, taking Yahweh at His word that those who would prosecute Moses for that murder are gone, and taking the staff as God commanded him and heading out.  God explains to him more of His plan, especially that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart, which likely struck terror in Moses’ heart.  Pharaoh will resist Moses and Yahweh up to a threat to kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son.

It is at this point that I believe Moses tries his last resistance to going back.  He does not circumcise his son, thinking that this will disqualify him in God’s eyes to lead this mission.  But it does more than disqualify him, it nearly gets him killed as a disciplinary action of God.  His wife saves his life and brings him into compliance.

Then he meets Aaron at Mt. Sinai, makes him his spokesman, and has his initial meeting with the people of Israel and as hoped, they believe that I AM has sent him and they worship Yahweh.  The next step is to confront Pharaoh.

We must not presume that if we choose to disobey God He will simply put us on the shelf, safe out of harm’s way.  No loving parent would let his child continue in such rebellion without disciplining him.  God’s discipline always produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

I distinctly remember sensing that God wanted me to start a men’s ministry at our church and I remember doing nothing about it.  God chose someone else, someone more obedient, and it ministered to many men.  I missed a blessing but I learned a lesson about obeying God.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What Really Makes God Mad

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”  (Exodus 4:10-17 ESV)

God is not passive toward our disobedience and our wounded self-image is not an excuse for disobeying.

Moses has yet another reason why Yahweh shouldn’t send him to Egypt.  He is not eloquent, he says, but God says He is capable of using Moses’ slow tongue.  In fact, Yahweh takes all credit for making anyone deaf and mute or seeing or blind.  All our abilities or disabilities are from God, an obvious contradiction of the prosperity gospel.  In Moses’ case God promises to be with Moses’ mouth and teach him what to say.

Finally Moses just begs God not to send him and our patient God finds His anger catching fire.  Moses is on the edge with God and yet God makes one more concession to His reluctant servant.  Aaron can be Moses’ spokesman and in fact Aaron is on the way to visit Moses and is almost there.  He will be Moses’ prophet even as Moses is Yahweh’s prophet.  Moses must take Aaron and the staff God gave him and go.

Have you been hurt like Moses?  His first attempt at being a deliverer failed miserably and now he was gun shy.  He saw himself as inadequate, a feeling many of us can identify with.  Truth be told, we are inadequate to serve the Lord.  But He wants to make us adequate.  If we obey, He will equip.  If we follow, He will further.  If we try, He will bring success, His success, whatever He deems that to be.  But He won’t put up with our disobedience.  We won’t lose our relationship to Him, but we will be out of fellowship with Him and under His loving discipline.  And we will miss the joy of serving Him that He had in store for us.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Trust God and Do the Right Thing

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”  (Exodus 4:1-9 ESV)

Have you ever wondered whether something God called you to do with people will be received by them?  Have you been afraid to take Him at His word that it will be used by Him for His purposes?  Magnify that multiple times for Moses, who was being asked to face down the most powerful man in the world, the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Moses is certain that not even the Israelites, let alone Pharaoh, will listen to him or believe Yahweh has sent him.  So Yahweh gives him three signs, the staff that turns into a snake and back again, his hand turning leprous and then healing, and the Nile water turned into blood.  Interestingly, God does not say that they will believe Moses.  He instructs him to use the staff “that they may believe” and the leprous healing that “they may believe” after not being satisfied with the first sign.  And He suggests that they may not believe Moses with those two signs and so gives the third.  That is not a guarantee.

But Yahweh has already told Moses that He will be with him.  Moses might understandably be nervous, as would we be, but God is asking him to trust him and has shown him several signs, including being a flame in a bush, to demonstrate His power and presence.  God is asking us to trust Him, too, and to take what should really be no risk at all, even if it does mean that we are not listened to or are treated shamefully.  Some who trust Him and go lose their lives (Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Acts 7; James, the first apostle killed, Acts 12).  Jesus was not spared and neither might we be, but we are doing the will of our Father, Yahweh Elohim.  That is the right thing to do.

Some will hate thee, some will love thee, Some will flatter, some will slight; Turn from man, and look above thee, Trust in God and do the right.

Simple rule and safest guiding, Inward peace and inward light; Star upon our path abiding, TRUST IN GOD AND DO THE RIGHT.

Norman Macleod, 1857

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Bearing the Name of God

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’

And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”  (Exodus 3:13-22 ESV)

Moses has another hesitation about doing what God (Hebrew ‘Elohim’) says, and that is, why should the people of Israel believe him if he doesn’t know God’s name.  God’s name, Yahweh (translated in our English texts as LORD in all caps), has been known and used from the beginning but it seems the Israelites have forgotten it.  Yahweh makes a play on His name saying, “I am who I am,” the Hebrew verb for “I am” being similar to the name Yahweh.  He tells Moses to tell the people that “I am” has sent him.  He is Yahweh, the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He is promising them that He will bring Israel out of Egypt to Canaan.

There was a belief in this culture that knowing someone’s name gave you some influence in their lives and we may say that this is true.  But does it give us influence with God?  The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it does and fault orthodox believers for not using His name.  Interestingly, their understanding of His name is in error.  In the Hebrew language the words are made up only of consonants, no vowels, and Hebrews just mentally supply the vowels in order to correctly pronounce the words.  When it became a concern that Yahweh’s name should not be pronounced those who copied the sacred text used a series of dots and dashes under and between the consonants to represent the vowels for the word ‘Lord’ in order to encourage readers to say ‘Lord’ (Hebrew ‘adonai’) instead of Yahweh.  But when you read the vowels for adonai with the consonants for Yahweh you get Yehovah or Jehovah.  The correct pronunciation is Yahweh.

Should we hesitate to say the divine name?  Jews have become unwilling to do so because of the second commandment not to use Yahweh’s name in vain and they want to protect against accidentally doing it so they do not pronounce it but say, “Lord.”  In writings you might see “G_d” even to remind you not to say the divine name.  We should not feel that hesitation but when dealing with Jewish people we may want to yield to their sensitivities so as not to offend.  Moses wanted to know God’s name in order to have more credibility with the people and God conceded this to him, even though it had never been a secret.  God wanted him to know His name more so that he could reflect God’s character more faithfully.

Yahweh tells Moses that the people will listen to him and will go with him to Pharaoh to request time in the wilderness to sacrifice to Yahweh their God, knowing, of course, that Pharaoh will refuse.  But this will allow Yahweh to demonstrate His power as He strikes Egypt with plagues and makes the Egyptians show favor to the Israelites as they leave.  He has laid out the whole plan to Moses and guaranteed him success.

God often comes down to our level, so to speak, to help us obey Him and do His will.  He asks us to trust Him and to remember how He has cared for His people in all generations.  How has He proven Himself to you?  What does He have for you to do next?  How will you bear His name?