17. Generations

Lessons from Israel: No.17 : Teaching the Generations

Ex 12:25-27 When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’

While explaining the Passover, the Lord declared, This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.” (v.14) He explained the Feast of Unleavened Bread which would commemorate the week following the Passover when they all ate unleavened bread, because they had no time to properly prepare bread with yeast. Indeed He reiterated it: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.” (v.17) Having created such a graphic thing to remember, the Lord’s instructions were now that they were to remember it every year. He foresees their children questioning them as to what it means (v.26) and thus He instructs them in our verses today what to say.

Passing on the truth to children, i.e. from one generation to the next, became an important part of their lives and Moses instructed them before they entered the Promised Land, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deut 4:9) When he spoke about all the commands the Lord had given them he told them, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 6:6,7)

Indeed, later in his instructions to them, he reiterated this: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 11:18,19) and speaking later of future generations, “Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deut 31:13).Truth had to be imparted from one generation to the next. It was a vital part of their culture. Again and again these same instructions were given in the books of the Law.

Asaph even wrote in the psalms: He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. (Psa 78:5-7). In the New Testament, Paul notes how this had worked in the life of Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Tim 1:5). How beautiful! The Gospel had been received by Timothy’s grandmother who conveyed it to her daughter, his mother, and then she to him, from one generation to another.

Very often this came in the form of some graphic memorial, as we saw in the previous meditation. After Israel passed through the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, we find, “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Josh 4:5-7). Thus the future generations would be reminded of how God had brought them into the Land. The Passover reminded them how they were brought out of Egypt and these stones would act as reminders of how they went in to their inheritance.

In the New Testament we find Jesus at the Last Supper: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19). Thus Communion or ‘the Breaking of Bread’ is a reminder for the modern church. Paul expanded on this when he wrote about it: “when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:24-26) This is to be something done regularly until Jesus comes back. It is a constant reminder from one generation to the next. We need such reminders. Do it!

16. Picture Teaching

Lessons from Israel: No.16 : God of Picture Teaching

Ex 12:1-3 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2″This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.

We are about to see something take place which becomes very common in following chapters and books – the Lord painting pictures to convey great truths for future generations. First of all in this chapter we are going to see historical events but these events involve very graphic teaching. This chapter is all about the Passover which involved the last of the ten plagues. Pharaoh has refused to listen to Moses and indeed after the previous one, the ninth plague, we find, Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” (Ex 10:27,28). In other words he shut the door on Moses and would hear nothing more from him. He himself stopped the Lord giving him any more chances.

So before Moses finally leaves Pharaoh’s presence he brings one last word to him: “So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.” (Ex 11:4,5) That is the final judgment on this people. That has been spoken and it will come to pass, but the way it comes to pass conveys a great truth through a very graphic means.

The picture starts with a lamb as our verses today show us: “on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.” (v.3) which is then described, i.e. its quality is laid down: “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.” (v.5) i.e. young and in good condition; no getting rid of your old or scrawny ones! Next comes the instructions of what they are to do with these lambs or kids: “Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.” (v.6,7)

That part is very significant in the light of what follows:  “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn–both men and animals–and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (v.12,13) In other words the blood would only be there as the result of an act of faith on the part of the Israelites, but from God’s side it would be a recognizable sign for the Lord’s angel that these homes were indeed part of the faith community and should be left untouched.

Observe the picture: a lamb is slain as a means of averting the judgment of God. The killing of the lamb is an act of faith by those who want to be part of the people of God, who want God to deliver them out of a bad place into a good place. And then we come to the New Testament and find, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). Note the description of Jesus – the Lamb of God. Then at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28). Finally observe the description of Jesus before the throne in heaven in the book of Revelation:Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” (Rev 5:6) and the song that was sung to him: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9). This is the work of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the One provided by God to act as the redeeming sacrifice so that the judgment of God would be averted.

How do we become those who escape the judgment of God that comes on all sin? We put to death the Lamb, God’s prescribed means of us being forgiven and cleansed of our sin. We declare, Jesus died for me; I believe in him as my redeemer, my lamb, who takes away my sin and averts the judgment of God for me. That is the power of the picture here in Exodus – the Passover – it saved them from the angel of judgment and so now today THE Lamb saves me from the angel of judgment!  In many places in Scripture we come across many such pictures which we sometimes refer to as ‘types’. The Passover was a type, or picture, of the salvation that comes through Jesus. We will no doubt see many more of these ‘types’ before we finish these studies in the lesson learnt from observing Israel with God.

15. Second Chances

(We pick up again the series we started several weeks back)
Lessons from Israel: No.15 : God of Second Chances

Ex 7:16,17 Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood.

This narrative that goes on for a number of chapters in Exodus, covering the ten plagues that came upon Egypt, is unique in the Bible and it highlights something here perhaps better than anywhere else in the Bible. It is so obvious that mostly we take it for granted. We have, in fact, referred to it already in a previous meditation. It is the fact that God could have destroyed the Egyptians in one go, without any further warning – but He didn’t. He gave them a second chance, and then a third and so on. It is so remarkable that, as I said, we take it for granted.

Now this goes right to the heart of the argument that we so often hear from atheists that God is a hard, capricious, unforgiving God. What we witness as we read through chapter 7 to 11 of Exodus is the God of second chances, the God who holds back His hand of judgment, the God who gradually increases the pressure and who, every time, allows the Egyptians to learn and to turn – but they don’t. I have commented many times in these meditations in the years of writing them, that I first noticed this many years ago when I did a series of verse by verse studies going through Jeremiah and noted the number of times that God’s word came to Israel and Jerusalem before eventually the captivity and exile came. There was nothing hasty about it at all, just as there is nothing hasty about God’s activity here in Egypt. In fact it is frighteningly methodical and specific, one thing flowing on from another, almost like a giant steamroller ploughing on over the land so slowly, unstoppable by the puny individuals standing before it. It’s almost like the tide coming in, inch by inch, again unstoppable.

But it is only the sin of Pharaoh and his people that cannot see this. Referring to Satan, the apostle Paul said, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) Referring to the darkness of sin, the apostle John wrote, “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” (1 Jn 2:11)  Both of them understood that submitting to Sin and to Satan blinds men, and Pharaoh is blind! In his case it is clearly pride that had hardened his heart and it is that which makes him blind so he cannot see that he has no chance of winning this contest. How easy it would have been to have let this foreign people go and just carry on ruling his own people, but the trouble is that pride doesn’t like being told what to do and so we hear people saying, “Don’t you tell me what to do; I’m just as good as you!” Pride blinds!

The reality in Egypt may have been that there were ordinary people who did take notice of what Moses was saying and thus were saved when the plagues got worse, because you will see that although initially, everyone was affected by the plagues, as they went on, the nature of some of the plagues meant that individuals could respond and avoid the impact of the plague (e.g. the hail). The incredible truth is that God gives us human beings as many chances as possible so we can never say, when we face Him in eternity, that we hadn’t been given a chance. This is why Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) If God seems to allow unbelievers to get away with mocking Him or bad men simply to carry on doing evil, it is because He is giving them opportunities to come to their senses before they face Him in eternity. Jesus also conveyed this in his parable of the fishes (Mt 13:47-50) showing that good and evil will live side by side until the end – but there will be an accounting. In such ways the Lord gives opportunity after opportunity to people to turn to Him. Never, when they face Him in eternity, will they be able to say they weren’t given a chance – they were, again and again!

Now if this seems to just apply to unbelievers, perhaps we who know the Lord should ask ourselves how many times does the Lord need to speak to us before we get what He is saying? It is all very well to point fingers at unbelievers but, in reality, do we hear what the Lord is saying to us? The seven churches of Asia Minor in the book of Revelation testify to the fact that we can carry on blissfully in our Christian lives thinking all is well, while the head of the church has issues with us. It should not be. May we have ears that are open to Him, that hear Him and respond to Him!

14. God of Reassurance

Lessons from Israel: No.14 : God of Reassurance

Ex 6:6-8 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ “

In the previous meditation we focused on the fact of Moses’ surprise when Pharaoh refused him, despite the fact that the Lord had warned him exactly what would happen. Clearly Moses had not fully taken in what the Lord had told him and so now he is crying out: “Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (Ex 5;22,23) Now if it had been us in God’s place I’m sure we would have rebuked Moses for being so slow witted, but the Lord doesn’t do that. Instead He reassures Moses in a variety of ways.

First of all He simply reiterates what He has said previously and implies that it is going to happen soon: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” (Ex 6:1) i.e. my plan has not changed since I first stated it to you. I observe that when the Lord brings an important prophecy to someone He usually brings it to them two or three times. He knows we need this continual reassurance.

But then the Lord identifies Himself again to Moses or, if you like, reassures Moses that He is up to the job! “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty.” (Ex 6;2,3) i.e. remember what I did for your ancestors and realise what I can do for you. But He goes further: “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, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.” (Ex 6:3-5) i.e. I Have revealed more of myself to you. I am the Eternal One, but I’m also the One who intervenes in history and because of what I have promised in the past, I will act now.

It is because of this that our verses above start with a ‘Therefore’. Because of the past I WILL do what I have said! Look at the things He says He WILL do:

  • I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. (v.6)
  • I will free you from being slaves to them,
  • I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
  • I will take you as my own people, (v.7)
  • I will be your God
  • I will bring you to the land I swore… to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob (v.8)
  • I will give it to you as a possession.

The first three are about deliverance and the next two are about an ongoing relationship with the Lord. The Lord doesn’t just deliver. Salvation comes through a relationship with Him. We aren’t called to stand on our own. The final two are about the inheritance that was to be their, the new land. Similarly the Lord doesn’t just deliver us out of the old life but He gives us a positive new life to live, to enter into.

But also in these verses three times He declares His authority for doing this: “I am the LORD” (v.6), “you will know that I am the LORD,” (v.7) and “I am the LORD.” (v.8). Each time He is saying, “I am the Eternal One” and (implied) because I am, I can do these things. That is enough for Moses and so he goes back to his leaders to pass on what the Lord has said. Note that the Lord doesn’t argue with Him or try to persuade him in any further way. The Lord has reiterated His plan, He had spelled it out again, and He has declared His authority and that should be sufficient. Moses senses that and argues no more at this point. He has questions further along the way but for the moment that is enough.

When it comes to our own lives we can keep on making excuses but actually God has said sufficient in His word to get us going. We shouldn’t need constant reiterating of what is already there and the fact that we so often do is a reflection on us and not the Lord.

13. Difficult Fulfilment

Lessons from Israel: No.13 : Difficult Fulfilment

Ex 5:1,2 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’ ” 2Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

When we were discussing, in a previous meditation, the content of the Lord’s conversation with Moses at the burning bush, we commented then that really Moses should not be surprised about all that was to follow, because the Lord had simply laid out what would happen and part of it was that Pharaoh would not accept Moses’ pleas on behalf of his people. Our problem is that when God says something to us, we don’t get the whole picture and we tend not to think through the ramifications of what He has said.

For instance when the Lord brings a prophetic word that says something like, “I am going to make a great warrior out of you” what we tend to forget is that warriors only become great when they overcome in great battles! That was a word that says that you are going to find yourself in great battles!  Or there is the word that says, “I am going to make you strong.” What we tend to forget is that strength is only built when we make great effort, so this is the Lord warning to get ready to make effort! Or the word that says, “I will work patience in you.” This simply means you are going to have to wait! All of these sorts of things come as a result of a process and the process usually means that we are going through tough stuff so that we will learn in a new way to receive the grace of the Lord in whatever form it comes.

Do you remember we read God’s strategy: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed.” (3:19-21) We like to focus on the wonders that God will perform and the fact that He will make the Egyptians favourably disposed towards us, but we forget the initial bit that the signs and wonders will only come because Pharaoh is going to refuse Moses’ requests. Worse that that, we don’t think about how he will feel when he refuses our requests.

What we didn’t realise was what he was going to say: “That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.” (Ex 5:6-9) i.e. part of his refusal is to make life harder for Israel. Oooops, we didn’t see that coming!

The way this works in our lives is that suddenly things seem to get worse, or in the case of promised healing, the sickness seems to get worse. We didn’t realise that when the Lord said, “I will set you free” or “I will heal them” He didn’t necessarily mean immediately. So often He allows there to be a process involved during which we change. Oh yes, we read about and think about the fact that the Lord wants us to grow and change but so often we don’t realise that changes take place in us by us coping with the trials of live and learning to receive the grace of God in a new way. Often we have to learn to cope with and battle through the thing getting worse, before it gets better. When the Israelite foremen realise what is going on, they said, “May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Ex 5:21) Oh yes, even the people of God can turn against us while we are waiting the outworking of God’s word. The enemy will find some vulnerable soul who will mutter, “Oh right, so you heard God did you? Doesn’t look like it from where I’m standing!” Don’t worry about them; they just don’t understand the process!

But when we come to the end of this chapter we see something that makes us realise just how much Moses has got to learn: “Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (Ex 5:22,23) Excuse me, Moses, isn’t that exactly what God said would happen? Well the best we can say is that at least he went to the Lord with his complaint. Very often people just mutter to themselves as they struggle to work out their misunderstandings. Go to the Lord with your confusion because then, at least, you’ll get an answer if you are willing to listen, which is what we’ll see in the next meditation. Talk to God about it! Learn to press on!  Understand the process!

12. God of Righteousness

Lessons from Israel: No.12 : God of Righteousness

Ex 4:24-26 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. 25But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

We move on now to a rather strange incident in the life of Moses. His interview with the Lord has come to an end and so goes back to Jethro his father-in-law and asks permission to go back to his people in Israel (v.18) and Jethro sends him on his way with his blessing. We then have a little recap which explains Moses next actions: “Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.” So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.” (4:19,20). Now we mention that because, as at the end of the conversation at the burning bush, it appears that he is on reasonable terms with the Lord. The Lord has sent him on his way with a reassurance of safety, and so Moses takes his family and sets off. Now in doing this, he is indicating his acceptance of the Lord’s task for him – and that is significant. Up until then he had been on a different footing, but that fact that he takes on the task changes everything.

Sometimes in Scripture there seems a vast understatement or lack of detail and verse 24 is such a verse: At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him.” Now, we aren’t told how the Lord met him and how He was about to kill him. The fact that his wife was able to take remedial action suggests that Moses was struck down with an illness that was getting progressively worse. A question that naturally will come to mind here is, why should the Lord want to kill Moses, and the answer from those who know the Lord and understand a little of His ways, is that He doesn’t!

Parallel situations that we might consider that shed light on such a time are, first of all, Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22) and, second,  the Lord’s anger on Mount Sinai when Israel made the golden calf (Ex 32 esp. v.10). It is clear that in neither case did the Lord want the outcome that was apparently being suggested. In the former case He wanted Abraham to show his willingness, and in the latter case He wanted Moses to plead for his people. So what is the point of the Lord looking like He is apparently going to kill Moses?  Now if He had wanted to do that, He could have done it instantly but instead, as we have already noted, He gives time for remedial action to be taken.

So what was it that saved Moses’ life?But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said.” The next verse indicates that she referred to circumcision, meaning you are a son of the covenant and your sons should also be sons of the covenant. So what was the covenant that she referred to? That between God and Abraham: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised,” (Gen 17:10) which was supposed to be for all following generations as well. Moses had obviously been circumcised as a baby as part of the family of Israel and he should have circumcised his own boys, but obviously he had felt that he no longer had any link with Israel and so had not bothered.

As he makes his way back to Egypt, he is coming on the Lord’s terms and is coming as an Israelite and is required to come in righteousness, conforming to all that had been agreed in the past about Israel. Moses cannot enter into the work of God on his own terms. No, he is an Israelite, part of the covenant people of God and he should be doing all he can to conform to all that that means. If he tries to enter the will of God on his terms, death awaits him. He can only enter on the agreed terms. Now whether Moses told his wife to circumcise their son or she heard from the Lord directly is unclear, but whatever it is, she carries out this act of separation. It is separation of a small piece of skin but it is also a recognition that this boy is being separated off to the people of God. Touching Moses’ feet with the skin is a form of identification of the dying man with the covenant of God and it is on that basis that the Lord lifts His hand off Moses and he lives.

This was simply God’s way of emphasizing to Moses that he goes as God’s ambassador and therefore he should go righteously. Righteousness simply means conforming to all of God’s laws for His people. The law here is simply the sign of a covenant agreement between God and His people. Moses (and his family!) goes as a representative of the covenant people and he himself must therefore conform to that covenant. For us this concept of covenant may not be very significant but it was basically God saying to the family of Israel, you are my family. Today the New Testament speaks about us being the children of God (Jn 1:12,13, 1 Jn 3:1,2) or members of God’s household (Eph 2:19) and the emphasis is on the relationship with God, which goes as far as us being able to call him ‘daddy’ (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6).

David displayed great awareness of the significance of this covenant relationship when he came against Goliath and asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). He’s saying, why are you allowing this character who has no relationship with God to dominate you, the people who do have a relationship with God? The relationship is all important, and that is something that Moses is having to learn the hard way. No, this is not a strange little incident; this is a very significant little incident, and we would do well to learn from it.

11. God of Judgment

Lessons from Israel: No.11 : God of Judgment

Ex 4:21-23 The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’

Possibly in no other area of understanding of Christian doctrine is there such misunderstanding as in respect of the subject of God’s judgment. Let’s see what the verses above say, and then look more broadly at judgment. We have here a summary of the Lord’s instructions: Moses is to go to Pharaoh and do what God leads and empowers him to do, but Pharaoh will reject his pleas and as a result God will take the life of Pharaoh’s first son. We need to look briefly at the individual elements of this summary.

First there are the ‘wonders’ that Moses will do. We have seen briefly the miracle of the changing staff but there was also the miracle of the leprous hand and water into blood (Ex 4:6-9) which we didn’t examine. But of course when we see the whole story we see that these ‘wonders’ are the ten ‘plagues’ that the Lord was going to bring on Egypt, but at the moment He hasn’t mentioned these specifically to Moses. Simply note that the will of God is often only revealed as we walk it out.

But then the Lord says He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. What does that mean and why does He say He will do it? Well, if you read through the following chapters you will see a number of references to Pharaoh’s hardening of heart. To simply summarise what you will read, the truth was that Pharaoh, as a proud man, already had a hard heart that was resistant to the Lord and all that would happen is that every time he was confronted by Moses it would simply harden his heart even more. Every time he was challenged by Moses, his resolve against the Israelites would be strengthened even more.

So why did the Lord bring these ‘judgments’ on Pharaoh and on Egypt? Well if you observe the ten ‘plagues’ you will see that they increase in intensity or severity each time and they are clearly opportunities for Pharaoh and Egypt to repent and come to their senses. God could have judged them in one almighty go from the outset but instead He chose to bring gradual judgments to Egypt so that Egypt could learn and turn. At any point in this monumental tussle, Pharaoh could have given in and that would have been the end of it – no more plagues, but he didn’t and so the plagues carried on getting gradually worse and worse. Now let’s reiterate what we said just now: the Lord could have brought one single, totally destructive judgment in one go but instead He wanted to give chance after chance to Egypt. How many times do you give chances to your disobedient children before you bring discipline?

If you think God is a ‘hard man’ (see Mt 25:24), think again. John, in his first letter, declares, “God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Ezekiel spoke for God, 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?” (Ezek 18:23) and if we didn’t take it in the first time, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32).

In the New Testament, we find a similar thing: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9). What is the Gospel if it is not all about God saving people from judgment: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17).

So why does judgment come? Why is it warned about? It is because it is the alternative that follows rebellion and disobedience but it only comes after many warnings and it comes, ultimately, at the choice of the recipients of it. When God has warned again and again and again, it is down to those being warned to take responsibility for what comes. We are quite happy with this when we see this in practical everyday life. When doctors warn again and again that smoking causes cancer, we are not at all surprised when a smoker gets cancer. When doctors warn about STDs we are not at all surprised when some one living a sexually promiscuous life contracts a sexually transmitted disease and suffers the consequences of that. The same could be said about alcohol or drug abuse. We understand when Paul wrote, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7), because we know that that is how it works. What the old nature doesn’t like is when something is attributed specifically to God. We fail to remember it is NOT what God wants, but that sometimes it is all He is left with if He is to restrain sin and save the rest of the human race.

Please see it clearly. God is essentially going to say to Pharaoh, “Don’t do this or you’re going to get hurt. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this, please…..” and Pharaoh in his stupidity is going to reject Him. Please don’t steal or you’ll go to prison. Please don’t shoot at the police otherwise you will be killed. So, come on, why do we have these silly ideas about God’s judgment? Perhaps because it is because we have been listening to a liar? Check it out!

10. God of Enabling

Lessons from Israel: No.10 : God of Enabling

Ex 4:11,12 The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

So the Lord has shared with Moses His general plan – for Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that he lets the people go to worship the Lord, but Pharaoh will refuse and then God will do signs and wonders so that Pharaoh will have to let them go. That’s the basic strategy. When Moses then started worrying about not being believed, the Lord gave him a series of miraculous demonstrations to perform – we only looked at the first one in the previous meditation. But Moses hasn’t finished with his ‘escape pleas’; we find, “Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (3:10) This always makes me laugh, it seems such a clear bit of communication which denies what he is saying.

Now, as we come to today’s verses, note again that the Lord doesn’t chide him. He knows this man and He knows that Moses really does need encouragement, which is why the Lord patiently explains some basics to Moses: I am God and I give people their abilities so don’t worry, I’ll help you speak. Jesus instructed his disciples similarly: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:19,20) i.e. my Holy Spirit will give you the words when you need them.

I believe there is a very real lesson here for Christians who say, “I don’t know what to say” when it comes to giving a testimony or sharing the Gospel with others. The first thing to say in reply is, think about it and learn what you could say. It’s not an option to be silent. The church is called to be a witnessing community. Think about it, work on it, learn what to say. That bit you can do, but when it actually comes to it and you have an opportunity to speak, quickly pray and ask the Lord for help and then trust Him to give you words.  Remind Him – Lord you said you’d give me words to speak by your Spirit. Please do it now.

But the story doesn’t end there. Moses may have run out of excuses but he still doesn’t want to go: “But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” At this point we might legitimately wonder why the Lord bothered to call him, when the Lord knows that He was going to get all these excuses and refusals. But therein is the truth: the Lord does know Moses and does know that he can do the job like no one else. Even more He knows the sort of man Moses is going to become. This man is going to become one of the most famous men in history in what he achieves. Oh yes, the Lord knows!

So we find, “Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses.” (3:14) Now I think most people don’t understand what is happening here. Can I give a personal illustration? We have several young grandchildren and I love them all very much. One of them we have once a week, while her mum does some coaching. This little girl who is about two and a half has a mind of her own. As much as possible we say ‘Yes’ to her but there are times when ‘No!’ has to be said. The other day when she was with us, my wife was having to stop her doing something and she resisted and was just about to throw a tantrum. Sitting along the table from her, I just cleared my throat loudly. Instantly the possible tantrum was gone and she complied. What had just happened? Her granddad, who always appears loving and gentle to her, suddenly appeared angry and fearsome. Was I? No, I am still the same loving grandparent but anger appeared the name of the game.

So now Moses gets the same treatment but see what the Lord actually says: “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” (3:14-16) How might we summarise that? OK Moses, if you don’t want to speak we’ll get your brother to do the speaking but you’ll still be the one who directs him! Isn’t that amazing! We might have given up on Moses but the Lord knows Moses’ potential and He doesn’t give up on him. He accommodates him!

There’s a big lesson here. We see it elsewhere in Scripture as well, in the story of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4, esp. v.8,9), where second best is accepted. The Lord will provide for us if we will go in faith, He is the Lord who will enable, but if we keep on opting out, He’ll take another course which still involves us, but isn’t as good as the original option. Please, let’s learn the lesson. God WILL enable you. If He puts something before you, He WILL enable you to do it: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13). Amen!

9. God of Transformation

Lessons from Israel: No.9 : God of Transformation

Ex 4:1-4 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” 2Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. 3The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.

Moses is scratching around looking for reasons why he can’t do this thing. He now comes up with his third question: what if they won’t believe me?  Hold on, Moses, the Lord has already said they will listen to you (implying acceptance because they will then go to Pharaoh with you) so you haven’t been listening or certainly you haven’t taken in what the Lord says. However, to be fair to Moses, I note this sort of behaviour is common in Christians when God is saying something completely new to them. In our confusion or wondering we just don’t take in fully what the Lord is saying.

Now note that the Lord doesn’t chide him. We might expect the Lord to tell him off after not having listened properly but perhaps we should identify the Lord as the God of understanding. We said in the previous meditation that He knows us and knows all about us, so He understands Moses and simply encourages him. The Lord gives him a visual demonstration of His power that is available to Moses, and turns Moses’ attention to what it is in his hand – his shepherd’s staff, the tool of his trade if you like. Throw it on the ground He tells Moses and when Moses does it turns into a snake – and Moses runs! It is obviously a big snake, possibly a cobra, and we’ll say why we make this suggestion in a minute. Moses has seen a miracle and it can be described in no other way.

Now comes the tricky bit. The Lord tells him to take it by the tail. You fancy taking a cobra by the tail? It’s likely to swish around a bit (to say the least) and you may get bitten. But Moses is beginning to realise that this God is a supernatural God, One who turns on miracles at a word and so if He says pick it up, it’s OK to pick it up. Now I want to suggest that this is a major learning step for Moses. He’s still going to stumble all over the place in his mind, but picking up this snake was a pretty big act of faith. When he does it turns back into his staff. Wow! A double miracle!

So what does all this say to us as we ponder it?  Well, the staff was, if you like, an emblem of Moses’ calling. He doesn’t realise it yet, but this is his calling, to be the Shepherd of Israel. At the moment he’s a literal shepherd but he’s soon going to be the shepherd of a nation! Where is the right place for the staff? In his hand!  If he let’s go of it, it will get transformed into a sign of the world. Now of course the first picture of Satan in the Bible is as a serpent (Gen 3). If you see pictures of the Pharaoh’s of that period, you will usually see they have a bronze cobra’s head as part of their headdress. Some suggest this symbolises Wadjet, who was a Lower Egyptian god, one of the oldest Egyptian goddesses, and was considered a protector of Egypt. Wadjet was revered as the goddess of childbirth, and protector of children, and in later years she became the protector of kings. This serpent is thus likely to be a picture of one of the key goddesses of Egypt. Let your ministry go and it gets absorbed by the spirit of the age and dissipated.

But what else does this visual aid suggest? It suggests that when you obey God you can take the spirit of the age by the tail and transform it! That’s what the Gospel does. It transforms our lives. Do you remember how Paul referred to our old pre-Christian lives: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Eph 2:1,2). We were subservient to the spirit of the age. If you read through Ephesians you see how Paul talks about how we have been transformed by the Gospel and are now part of the body of Christ with Christ-given gifts and ministries, with which we bless the church and the world.

Oh yes, the clear message here is that God is a God of transformation. He has the power by the work of Jesus on the Cross, and the Spirit within us, to transform lives. Have you ever seen the wonderful picture of transformation that comes through Ezekiel’s prophecy in chapter 47 of his book? It is of a river that flows out from the Temple of God and as it flows it gets deeper and deeper, but the really thrilling thing about it is that where it flows it brings transformation (47:8 on). Consider two other pictures of transforming activity that we so often take for granted – salt and light (Mt 5:13-16). Salt purifies and light reveals. Both are transforming agents. The history of the Church is the story of millions of lives that have been transformed for good. Yes, we still get it wrong but essentially it is all about lives being changed for good. Bad lives, evil lives, messed up lives, that encounter the wonderful news of Jesus Christ, that they are loved and that he has died for THEM, and they are transformed! I watch this transformation taking place on a regular basis as we see people coming to the Lord through Jesus Christ. The poor atheists cannot understand this and so argue on bad intellectual grounds, not realising that they are fighting against an impossibility. They can say what they like, but the truth is that the Church, for those who have unprejudiced eyes to see, is a story of simple transformed lives, wonderful lives.  And it’s all of God! Hallelujah!

8. God of Strategy

Lessons from Israel: No.8 : God of Strategy

Ex 3:18-20 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ 19But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

Let’s sum up the lesson here and then work through it in detail: God has plans and God knows what He’s doing! Some silly people like to portray God as an old man, with the inference of senility, but that is not the God revealed through the Bible. Our God is Creator of all things (whether He took hundreds of millions or years or thousands of years is, frankly, irrelevant!). He designed this world, He knows all about it and He has the power to change it when He wants to. He is all-knowing and all-wise. He knows everything there is to know about every person – who they are, what they are like, how they will respond and so on. That is what the Bible reveals to us about God and so we shouldn’t be surprised about anything we find in our passage above.

The Lord has just instructed Moses to go back to Egypt and meet with the Israelite elders: “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, … – a land flowing with milk and honey.” (3:16,17) Those are his ‘marching orders’. Go and tell the Israelite leaders that you’ve met me and that I’ve said I’ll deliver them. But the Lord didn’t stop there because He knew what the response would be because, as we’ve just said, the Lord knows all about us and He knows how we’ll react. Thus we come to our verses today.

“The elders of Israel will listen to you.” That’s a good starting place. There’s going to come more as Moses worries out the questions on his mind, but for the time being that is a good start: the leaders will listen to you! But next comes what he and the elders are to do: “Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.” That is to be the point of confrontation with Pharaoh. It wasn’t a demand to totally let the Israelites go, just to let them go out into the desert to worship their God.

But now God shows that He is a God who knows people: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.” God knows what Pharaoh is like. It isn’t like God is sending Moses into a situation where he is blind to the facts of the situation. Oh no, the facts are quite simple: Pharaoh is a proud and powerful man and his nation is seriously into the occult with all their worship of different ‘gods’ (as will become clear further along in the story) and such people don’t take kindly to being told what to do. Oh no, Pharaoh is going to dig his heels in because he thinks he is boss and he has yet to learn that he’s not!

So is God going to give up at that point? No He’s not! God is a planner and a strategist. God, as we’ve now said a couple of times, knows people and knows exactly how they will act, so nothing in the following chapters is going to come as a surprise to Him. We’re going to see that it comes as a surprise to Moses but that is just because Moses isn’t very good at listening!  Now don’t be upset at that; just ask yourself how good at listening to God you are. How many times do we have to hear something preached or something prophesied before we take it in?

No, at the moment Moses is more concerned about why it shouldn’t be him doing this, and because of that perhaps, he doesn’t fully take in all that the Lord is telling him – but the Lord can live with that, because He knows Moses as well! Yet God has a simple strategy to deal with Pharaoh’s intransigence: “So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.” There it is! Simple! Pharaoh will refuse, I’ll do some stuff, and he’ll let you go! From God’s perspective it IS simple because He is Almighty God and Pharaoh is just a puny man. The outcome has been decided before it all starts. If only Moses could have understood that from the start it would have saved him a lot of heartache. But then the same applies to us.

When we enter a course of action at the Lord’s command, the outcome is decided before we start – if God has said it. Yes, there may be a number of bumps along the road, but God knows about them and He’s taken them into account. The reason He allows them is first, because He’s given free will to silly people, and so there may be opposition along the way and, second, because He wants to teach us some stuff along the way. We are going to get changed along the way and become more like His children. It’s all part of the learning process. What fun! Well not always! Learning is a bit hard sometimes when the Lord has to free us from our silly ways of thinking. Still, He knows us, and He still loves us. Rejoice in that when you don’t cope with the bumpy road along the way! He’s got a strategy and it does take all that into account. Don’t worry; you’re going to get there! God isn’t committed to failure.