4. Command One: Only One God

PART TWO: First Four Commandments – about God

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 4. Command One: Only One God

Ex 20:1,2    And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Ex 20:3 You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.

And More: There is a further historical dimension to our starter verses above, that we have been considering. It is found in verse 2: “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Now, perhaps, we will shortly be able to see why the first of these ten commands is so important. All the knowledge of Him that we pick up in the Bible, (and I realize this is a much bigger topic) is that He is one, He is the Creator of all of existence, He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise and He is eternal and, of course, He communicates.  These are some of the minimums that come through in the Bible about Him. It also declares that He is love, He is good, He is holy, and He is perfect. In other words He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we soon need to be considering.

Historical Context: Now He can now be identified as the one who delivered Israel miraculously out of the hands of the most powerful despot in the world, from Egypt. In earlier meditation No.2 we emphasized the need to observe the historical context when approaching these laws. That is especially important with this verse. The law is simple and straight forward in this first command: God says, “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me”, i.e. “I am God, there is only one of me, so don’t worship anyone or anything else,” but it comes in the context of a people living in the midst of a nation where ‘gods’ proliferate!

‘gods’ of Egypt: Bear in mind Israel had only recently left that fear-driven, superstitious nation, Egypt, which we are told had over 2000 ‘gods’. Many had similar characteristics and appeared all over the country but with different names.  Birds, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, frogs, cattle, dogs, cats and other domesticated animals were considered to be the living images of a particular god or goddess. One historian declares, ‘All parts of life were covered and there were gods for beer, plants, digestion, the high seas, female sexuality, gardens, partying etc.’

The best-known gods of Egypt we may have heard of – Ra, the god of the Sun, the most important god, lord of all the gods. He was usually shown in human form with a falcon head, crowned with the sun disc encircled by a sacred cobra – judge of the dead, and father of Horus, god of the sky (the Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the ‘living Horus’) – Tefnut, goddess of the rain – Anubis, who guided the dead to the next life via the court of Osiris in the Underworld – Sobek, god of Nile who had the head of a crocodile, and many others (followers of ‘The Mummy’ films will know some of these names). But ‘gods’ appear all over ancient history.

‘gods’ of Canaan: In Canaan, gods we come across in the Bible were Asherah, the walker of the sea, a mother goddess, Baal, god of fertility, Dagon, god of crop fertility, Molech, god of fire, and there were also many, many others. A simple Google search reveals that virtually every nation had ‘gods’.

‘gods’ of Greece & Rome: Later in history we may be more familiar with the Greek gods – Zeus, god of the Sky – Hera goddess of marriage, mothers and families – Poseidon, God of the Sea – and so on. Following them, the Romans with their gods, mostly the same but with changed names, for example, Zeus, the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and god of the sky and thunder, Pallas Athena, is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, Mars was the god of war, Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, and so on.

Characteristics of ‘gods’: A study of such gods shows us six things:

  • First there were lots of them! In fact there were gods for any and every situation or feature of the world.
  • Second, they created or maybe were the result of superstitious fear, the insecurity of living in a changing and uncertain world.
  • Third, they were never benign, it seems; they all required some form of appeasement.
  • Fourth, when these gods took human form, or were thought of as being in human form, they also took on human foibles and struggled and fought with one another and did not have humanity’s best at heart!
  • Fifth, and this becomes very significant as we move on, the idea of the existence of such ‘gods’ meant that humanity’s attitude towards them was one of superstitious subservience.
  • Sixth, because we know that such secondary beings are purely expressions of superstitious imagination, there is never any way to measure the reality of interchange between a human being and a ‘god’. Indeed one wonders if there was really any real relationship involved. (how can there be a two-way interaction with a carved block of wood?)

And then: When we come to the Bible. We see A God who reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs and what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of Israel but, as we’ve already seen He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we have just been considering.

The call to follow Him alone is surprisingly, and contrary to the crusading atheists claims, a claim to be free of superstition and a call to come to One who will bring love and goodness and security. For Moses and his people they already knew something of Him as revealed through His dealings with the Patriarchs and now recently His deliverance of them from Egypt. He was a God who appeared to want to be friendly, a God who had the power to deal with enemies on one hand and bless His friends on the other.

And So: Everything we know of these other ‘gods’ makes us want to shy away from them and their demands and the superstitious fear-filled life, and everything we come to know of Him says here is One who we would be foolish to reject. It is only that self-centred and godless propensity that we all have, which the Bible calls Sin, that makes us suspicious and fearful of Him.

It also makes us want to stand on our own two feet and foolishly think we can cope in life without Him, hence the popular ‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’ attitude that is the common expression of the rebellious aspect of Sin. In the folly of Sin we cannot believe that this God, who claims to be the one and only God, is loving and good and desires the best for us. But that, as we say, is the folly of Sin. The call to “have no other gods beside me” is, in one way, a common-sense call in accord with reality because there is NO other God, merely the imaginations of superstitious fear. Away with it!

But why, we might ask, do people have all these ‘gods’? Because it is such a big question, we will wait until the next studies and examine the nature of the working out of this superstitious fear seen in the form of worshipping idols. We will then compare this to the nature of God and then the nature of sinful mankind that turns to such things.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord God, you are so great that you defy my imagination. I confess my mind cannot comprehend the greatness of One who is all-powerful, all knowing and all-wise, and yet you have given us your Word, almost as if to attract us and get our attention, to reveal something of yourself to us. Forgive us Lord that we treat it so casually and so often give so little thought to what we find in it. Lord I need your help to see these things in a fresh light that will break through the confusions of limited understanding. Please help me. Amen.”

Snapshots: Day 63

Snapshots: Day 63

The Snapshot: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm.” (Ex 14:13) Israel are in a mess. The sea is before them and an angry and vengeful Pharaoh is coming behind them – and it’s all God’s fault! And Moses says, “Do not be afraid”? You’ve got to be joking! This is a scary situation. Just like being in a small boat on a capricious lake in a vicious storm, when God seems asleep (Lk 8:23). Why do we have crisis moments like this?   Why is it that sometimes the guidance of God appears to be going pear-shaped? Just so that we can learn that He is still with us, is still in control, is still working out His purposes which will succeed. Father wants His kids to learn to trust Him for all these things, but it is a process, often a slow process. Grumble or grow, are the two choices. Choose well.

Further Consideration: I feel almost in despair at times over the Christian world. A member of the church rings me up to ask me to pray for members of their family who are in a mess. Not wanting to be discouraging I say I will pray but deep down I know the only meaningful prayer for these people who have been living godless and unrighteous lives is, “Lord, please save them.” Then and then only will they start putting their lives straight and peace, order and blessing will start to flow. Until then, we may ask God to bless them – and He might well do that – but all that means is He will stick on a plaster and they will carry on living godless and unrighteous lives and getting in a mess.

This is very different from the mess that Israel are in at the present point of our meandering through the Scriptures. They have just received an amazing deliverance and are on their way out of Egypt but the cause of their past slavery threatens them yet again. In fact the present threat is worse than they knew before because Pharaoh is now determined to kill them. I say it is different and yet in both cases the past needs putting to death.

The New Testament is quite clear: when we turn to Christ we are to die to the old life, described by the apostle Paul as, “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts,” (Eph 2:3) and in Rom 6 he uses the language of death and resurrection to describe what has happened to us. In Israel’s case Pharaoh is about to be put to death, that is the only way to completely free Israel from their past in Egypt. When Paul says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 6:11) he means, consider yourself dead to that old life – of godlessness and unrighteousness – but now tuned in to living with God. There can be no half and half. Be transformed, live it, experience it and stand firm in it for it is what Christ has earned for you on the Cross. Hallelujah!

24. Living with Uncertainty

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 24. Living with Uncertainty

Jer 39:11,12  Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard: “Take him and look after him; don’t harm him but do for him whatever he asks.”

The previous study took us up to the period pre-Exile, while Jeremiah was prophesying over the closing days of Jerusalem.  It is difficult for us to comprehend the chaos that must have followed the sacking of Jerusalem. The city has been destroyed and most of the people are being taken to Babylon. Some Jews, as we’ll shortly see, had fled to surrounding nations, but most were taken captive and deported.

Jeremiah’s Release: In the city, Nebuzaradan, commander of the imperial guard, had released Jeremiah after the instructions in our verses above he spoke to Jeremiah (40:1,2) and added “today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.” However, before Jeremiah turned to go, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.” (40:4,5) How amazing was that! Gedaliah was appointed governor of the land and the commander gave Jeremiah carte blanche to go where he wanted, to Babylon or stay with Gedaliah. He chose the latter.

People Return: Then we read, “When all the Jews in Moab, Ammon, Edom and all the other countries heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, as governor over them, they all came back to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, from all the countries where they had been scattered. And they harvested an abundance of wine and summer fruit.” (40:11,12) Signs of resettling, signs that perhaps peace would come to the land, even under the king of Babylon. But life isn’t always smooth and, as I recently wrote, one historian has suggested that the history of the world is the history of wars, of upheavals in human affairs.

Upheaval & Questioning: Now a word was brought to Gedaliah that the Ammonite king had sent a man by the name of Ishmael to kill him (Jer 40:13,14) but he didn’t believe the men. Nevertheless, it was true and Ishmael rose up and killed Gedaliah (41:1-10), but there was a reaction against him and he fled (41:11-15). The survivors were fearful of what the king of Babylon’s reaction would be, and decided to flee to Egypt (41:16-18). However, before they did they sought out Jeremiah and asked him to seek out the Lord and find out what the Lord wanted for them (42:1-6). Ten days later Jeremiah received a word from the Lord that they should remain in the Land and He would bless them there (41:7-22). Moreover, if they went to Egypt it would be disobedience and they would die there by famine or sword. It was a strong but clear word.

To Egypt: Some foolish men rose and took the leadership and rejected God’s word through Jeremiah and forced he and the other people to go to Egypt (43:1-7).  In Egypt the Lord again speaks through Jeremiah and told the people that Nebuchadnezzar would come and vanquish Egypt (43:8-13). The word then continued to warn that all who had fled would die there (44:1-14).  Yet the people rejected the word and turned back to idolatry (44:15-19). Jeremiah brought a final word that reinforced the previous words – you will die here (44:20-30). Apart from various additional prophecies added to the end of Jeremiah and an historical recap, this is the last we hear of him. What a tumultuous story. But what does this story say to us today? What principles are there to teach us?

Life out of control: The first and most obvious thing from this story is that, man or woman of God or not, we live in a fallen world and the circumstances of that world are not always in our hands. The Lord clearly presided over this time in the life of Israel and prompted Nebuchadnezzar to come against Israel to deport them and discipline and change them. Within that He made sure that Jeremiah was spared and was given his freedom. Nevertheless, the Lord allows humanity to exercise its free will and so evil men are permitted to rise up.

Purging: Now we might suggest that the Lord saw that the hearts of the surviving remnant were not purged of their sin of idolatry that had been seen for decades, and this is confirmed by their behaviour when they get to Egypt. It may be, therefore, that the Lord allowed this train of events, to remove these un-sanctified people from the land. They have been given every opportunity to turn back to the Lord having been given a second chance in the land, but their hearts are clearly not changed. It is going to take forty years of life in Babylon before the hearts of the people as a whole can be changed.

Our expectation – and this is a major lesson – is that hearts can be changed easily, but that is untrue. It often takes major pressures to transform a heart, such is the folly of sin. Very often history shows that a precursor to revival is the nation reaching rock bottom morally, to the point where people are crying out for help. Simply knowing the truth does not mean people will respond to it. That is the overall lesson about people. But what about Jeremiah? He demonstrates that although our expectation might have been after the downfall of Jerusalem that he was safe, his safety is not the big issue. It is whether he can remain the mouthpiece of God regardless of what is going on around him.

Our Call: For you and me, the first call is to faithfulness. Will we remain true and faithful to the Lord regardless of what people round about us are doing? But second, will we remain as obedient witnesses to the Lord, continuing to fulfil whatever ministry He has given us, regardless of how people are responding? I have often said in these studies that the Lord calls us, gives us a vision and then that vision has to die before He raises it up and fulfils it. Years ago, the Lord said to me, ‘I don’t call you to success but to obedience.’

We might look at Jeremiah and think, well, he didn’t do very well did he! He ended up with a disobedient people in Egypt where presumably he eventually died. Unfulfilled. Well, actually, no. He fulfilled his ministry right up to the end. His role was to be God’s mouthpiece wherever he was. He spoke the word again and again to Jerusalem, and they disregarded him and so Jerusalem fell. He continued to bring the word to the surviving remnant, but they failed to heed it and so died in Egypt. His call was to speak. It was up to the people how they responded, and they would be answerable to God because they had heard and they knew. Now they would be held accountable. Jeremiah was a total success because he managed to keep going right to the very end. The people? That’s another story.

So, to conclude, don’t have any romantic ideas about sin and the state of people’s hearts. Our call is to be witnesses. How people respond is down to them. Remain faithful, remain true, remain obedient, do all you can to reveal Him. THAT is our calling!  Amen.

49. Desert & Promised Land

Part 6: The Road to Sinai

Meditations in Exodus: 49. Desert & Promised Land

Ex 15:22   Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.

And so we move into a new phase in the life of Israel. They have been delivered from Egypt and Pharaoh has been dealt with so he will not come after them again. Now, as we have already seen, Israel are being led by the presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud moves they move, when the cloud stands still, they stand still. It is, if you like, a picture of the life of the Christian being led by the Spirit.

Now the moment we say that, we need to introduce the subject of ‘types’ in the Old Testament. Types in the Old Testament mean pictures from the Old Testament history that reveal something of the truths and reality of New Testament experience. Rom 15:4 tells us that the Old Testament writing were written for our instruction and encouragement. In the New Testament, we find it constantly refers to the Old Testament and often indicates that the Old Testament showed pictures that speak of things to come in the New. Wherever possible we should look for Types where the Bible expressly indicates one, but sometimes we may assume a Type where it is so clear that one can be considered. So, before we rush on to observe Israel’s journey through the wilderness, it might be helpful to see these ‘types’ or analogies in the bigger picture.

Egypt is seen as a picture of the world and of our life before Christ.  “World” in Scripture has three different meanings:   i) the planet on which we live,  ii) the people on the earth, iii) the system of godless attitudes held by the majority of people. It is this last meaning that we consider here. Egypt or our unsaved lives is where the people are in slavery, ruled by a tyrant (1:8,9 / 1 Jn5:19 ) where the people want to be free but are unable to deliver themselves.

The Desert or the Wilderness is seen as the start of the redeemed life. It is entered through the Passover, a picture of Jesus dying for us. It is a place of learning to trust God and that is what all the immediate studies will be about. It is a place where God guides but we have to learn to trust Him to overcome every difficulty.  It was supposed to be a limited experience and they were supposed to pass through it and enter the land. We too are called to go on to maturity (see Heb 6:11-14/ Eph 4:13-15).

The Promised Land is, if you like, the second phase of the Christian life where we now trust God and see that it is a place of receiving our inheritance from Him.  It was God’s promised inheritance for Israel (see Gal 4:7 / 2 Pet I :4 / Mt 25:34) and it was to be a place of natural abundant provision (see Eph 1:7,18).  It was also a place of battles to take the inheritance from the unbelieving, godless, occupiers of the land (see Eph 6:12 ) but the victory was assured for them in accordance with God’s promise Josh 1:3-5 (see 1 Cor 15:57 / Rom 8:37 / Rom 16:20 / 1 Cor 15:25 ) and that was obtained as they obeyed his instructions (see Jn 15:5/ Jn 14:12.15)

Before we leave these particular ‘analogies’ can we emphasise the difference between the Wilderness and the Promised Land, for they often confuse Christians. They are both places of learning and obedience and they are both places of God’s provision. The Wilderness experience, we will see, takes God’s people through a number of trials or testings all to do with daily provision and the key lesson to be learnt is to TRUST this loving God that He is for us and WILL provide for us everything we need. There are no exams for this and there is no set time for this; it is simply a learning process that we have to go through, and sadly many Christians never seem to leave the wilderness and get to the place of simply RECEIVING all the goodness of God that He has for us that just has to be taken.

So, we have been delivered out of the ‘world’ (Egypt) and are transiting to the Promised Land through a world that is not always comfortable. This phase begins, Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.” (v.22a) The fact that Moses is mentioned as the leader doesn’t detract from the fact that it is God leading them as we noted above, but Moses is still simply His figurehead at the head of this people. At first sight this might seem bad news that God (and Moses) is leading this people into the desert on the Sinai Peninsular, a distinctly inhospitable part of the world but there are two reasons for this.

First, as we saw in Study no,45, God did not want them to go due north because that would have meant war with the belligerent Philistines and Israel were not yet ready for war. Second, the desert affords Israel the opportunity to learn many thing about their deliverer. So far they have only seen God as the bringer of judgments; now they need to learn that He is also the provider of their daily needs. He is not just a warrior but a loving father who looks after His children.

So they are led into the desert. What does that remind you of? Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert” (Mt 4:1) God’s training and, yes, God’s victories, are often won in the desert, the dry and arid place, the place where you feel all alone. There is nothing romantic about the desert: “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (v.22b) It is a place of shortages, a place of limitations, a hostile place – but God is still there with us and in that dry, arid, hostile place, He will reveal Himself as our provider, our carer, the One who not only delivered us out of Egypt but the One who will walk every step of this life with us, being there for us all the time.

So if you feel like you are in a desert – you probably are, but it is a place of learning and a place of trusting and a place of God providing. It is also a place where our limitations are revealed, our imperfections shown up and we realize afresh that we are here by God’s grace and mercy, not because of our endeavors, our cleverness, our brightness, but because a lamb was slain for us. Do you feel excited by all the lessons that are about to come? If not, let me reassure you that God IS love and everything He allows in this desert experience is for your good and for your maturing and for the blessing of His world. Are we ready? Then let us begin.

42. A Hasty Departure

Meditations in Exodus: 42. A Hasty Departure

Ex 12:40,41   Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.

It is important to catch and hold on to the details of all that happened to Israel. Pharaoh has apparently capitulated and told them to leave. The Egyptian people have encouraged them to leave and have heaped them with goods to take with them. The slave people have eventually been paid for their years of servitude!

They are on their way: The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth.” (v.37a) Rameses was one of the store cities the Hebrew slaves had helped to build (see Ex 1:12) and they obviously still lived in the vicinity. It is thought to be somewhere on the Nile delta (possibly to receive imports from the sea). Succoth is thought to be to the west of the Bitter Lakes near the eastern border of Egypt. As we had noted in a much earlier meditation the Egyptians had used the Hebrew slaves for mining in the south of the Sinai peninsular and so they were possibly kept in Goshen in the north of Egypt for easy access. What was once used to his benefit by Pharaoh, now works for the benefit of Israel as they look to make a quick escape from Egypt. (Yet, as we will see in a later study, that brought its problems!)

Who went? We are told that, “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” (v.37b) When they had arrived in the land some four hundred years earlier there had been just some seventy or so of them (see Ex 1:5), but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” (Ex 1:7) Adding women and children it is quite possible that they exceeded two million people departing the land.

But that is not all: Many other people went up with them, as well as large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.” (v.38) The ‘many other people’ have to be Egyptians who had had enough of Pharaoh and the ways of Egypt. As you follow the adventures of Israel you see that various non-Hebrews joined themselves to this people (e.g. Rahab and her family – Josh 6:25, and the Gibeonites – Josh 9:27) but not always without difficulties as we will see later on in their travels.

And then we are reminded yet again of the haste with which they go and the effects of it: “With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.” (v.39) It is a point made again and again, e.g. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.” (Ex 12:11) The references to using no yeast (which would delay the making of the bread, waiting for the yeast to rise) come again and again – 12:15,17-20,34,39)  The point is  being made again and again – this is a hasty exodus and it is hasty because of the activity of God. So great and powerful was His work that Israel are almost being shot out of the land. It is a mighty work of God and it will be remembered every following year by the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The facts of the case are then simply stated: Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.” (v.40,41) Centuries before the Lord had said to Abraham, In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here.” (Gen 15:16). At that earlier time a “generation” was the age of a man when his first son (from the legal standpoint) was born, as in Abram’s case, 100 years (see Gen 21:5). ‘In’ the fourth generation means in the time in excess of 400. Here the chronicler details it very specifically as 430 years. God had said it and it is clear from the Lord’s conversation with Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3 & 4) that He knew exactly when He would be acting against this current Pharaoh (thought by many to be Ramses II).

It is summed up: Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the LORD for the generations to come.” (v.42) The Message version expresses this verse as, God kept watch all night, watching over the Israelites as he brought them out of Egypt. Because God kept watch, all Israel for all generations will honour God by keeping watch this night—a watchnight.” Vigil – kept watch. A slight understatement of what happened in respect of the last plague but the Lord certainly was watching over Israel and protecting them. Thus future generations would hold the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread and would hold a ‘vigil’ to remember what had happened.

In these verses we are presented with very specific information. Some commentators have struggled with the numbers of Hebrews leaving and there a questions as to how the 430 years is calculated but the record is quite specific and has been put there for our information and to build our faith, and that is the all-important thing – this was a work of God. God decreed it hundreds of years before it happened. The Lord saw what the need would be with the passing of time. He saw how history would work out and spoke of that and then fulfilled it.

For us in our lives, be assured that God is Lord over all and knows everything there is to know about us and despite that (AND because of it) sent Jesus to die for us at the right time in history (Gal 4:4). He is not caught out by anything happening in your life and He is there for you in every circumstance. As with Israel here, our circumstances may not always work out as we expect – but the Lord KNOWS and is there for us! Be at peace and rejoice in that!


39. An Ongoing Memorial

Meditations in Exodus: 39. An Ongoing Memorial

Ex 12:14   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.

In the previous meditation we noted that the focus of every new year was to be the Passover, the reminder of how the Lord redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and took them and made them a people of His own. That is at the heart of all this, and thus the Lord now reiterates that very clearly to Moses: “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)  but it isn’t just a one-day thing, it is in fact to be a week-long thing. The trouble with a one-day event is that it is gone so quickly that it can almost be forgotten or lose its significance.

So we find instructions for this one-week memorial: “For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel” (v.15) Note, first of all, how serious this is: if anyone fails to follow these instructions that is tantamount to outright disobedience which will take away the meaning or significance of what they are doing.  We noted before the absence of yeast in their bread is to be a strong reminder of the haste with which they eventually left Egypt. This is an important thing. For months (or years?) these plagues had been building and building and there was no sign of any movement in Pharaoh and then all of a sudden, after this last plague, there is going to be almost a violent spewing out of Israel from Egypt and they are going to have to be ready to leave at an instant and then go very hastily. This was all because of the work of God and that essential piece of information was to be incorporated in this ‘meal’ lasting a week, every year.

Now what follows is not what will happen now before this plague comes, but what they are to do every year thereafter as a memorial. On the first and the seventh day of this ‘feast’ everything else, except the food preparation, is to come to an end: “On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat–that is all you may do.” (v.16) i.e. there is to be no work done on either of those two days. Those two days were for a special gathering together to remember before the Lord, the wonder of what He had done for them.

This becomes the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because unleavened means to be without yeast (normally when yeast is used in making bread it takes time for it to rise in the bread. Such was their haste they would not have time to wait for the yeast to rise so they had to make bread without yeast, i.e. unleavened). “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” (v.17)

Now we have to re-emphasise the importance of the absence of yeast:  In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.” (v.18-20) We emphasise it because the emphasis is there in the Lord’s instructions. Some, wanting to typify this, say that yeast is a picture of sin and therefore everything here is about obedience to the Lord and therefore the absence of sin. Nevertheless the main emphasis, we believe, is what we have already picked up on, that it was all about recognising the amazing work of God that brought about the exit of haste from the land of slavery, deliverance to a new life in a new land.

Now there may be some confusion between the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in terms of timing. Note again the timing in the verses we have already considered: In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day.” (v.18)

In the Law we read, “The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.” (Lev 23:5,6)

What actually happened was that the lamb was slain at sunset on the 14th. Now in Hebrew reckoning the next day began after sunset of the previous day and ended at sunset of the next day. So technically the Passover was celebrated on the 14th and because the 15th started straight after sunset there would be no gap of time between the death of the lamb, the sprinkling of the blood and the keeping of the feast. In what happened in Egypt, the lamb was slain in the evening of the 14th, the judgment fell at midnight and the redeemed people of God started out of Egypt in the morning of the 15th.

The seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread that would be celebrated in subsequent years was able to be celebrated because of the Passover and the two are often spoken of as one. In the days of Unleavened Bread there was opportunity to reflect upon the wonder of what the Lord had done, not only in the event of the Passover but also in the days of escape that followed in which the power of the Lord was seen yet further, which we will yet see in future meditations. It was also a time of communion with God and thankfulness for their very existence that was due entirely to Him. It was a time of presenting burnt offerings to the Lord (Lev 23:8) as a gift to the Lord (Deut 16:16,17) – and it was all possible because a lamb had been slain. Hallelujah!

But that unique night in Egypt they were feasting on their particular lamb, as someone has said, ‘not in cool indifference, nor unconscious slumber, but in anticipation’, dressed to travel, wondering about the hours ahead, how it will all work out. For years they have been slaves under the domination of the ruling Pharaoh, in the midst of this occult-heavy, superstitious people. Now the word has come to them – be ready, you are about to witness one of the most horrendous judgments of history and yet be untouched, and then you will be free to follow the Lord as He will lead you out of this place of slavery to a new future.

So much of this study has been about ‘remembering’ in the future the events that were about to take place. When we participate in ‘Communion’ or ‘the Lord’s Supper’ we are remembering Jesus’ death on our behalf. That is something built into our corporate life, but I wonder how often we reflect back on our own lives and remember the things that the Lord has done for us over the years.  Some times those things will be very obvious, other times less obvious and we say by faith, ‘it had to be the Lord.’ It is important that we remember and keep on remembering.

38. Passover Preparations

Meditations in Exodus: 38. Passover Preparations

Ex 12:12   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.

For a moment we step aside from the confrontations with Pharaoh for the Lord has to instruct His people how they are to get ready for when He will bring the tenth and last plague. They will have a part to play to avoid the destruction that is coming.

So significant will this event be that it is to signify the beginning of the calendar year for the Israelites from now on: The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (v.1,2) The focus of every new year was to be the Passover in the middle of the first month, the reminder of how the Lord redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and took them and made them a people of His own. That is at the heart of all this. Put it the other way round, the New Year month for Israel is always to start with the Passover because it is the very reason they exist and before anything else happens in a year, they are to remember that.

Then come the instructions about ‘the Passover lamb’: “Tell 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. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.” (v.3,4) There is very much a community feel about this. They are, as a community, to do this every year and if they are only a small household they are to share with a neighbour.

Then comes an instruction about the lamb: “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.” (v.5) John the Baptist identified Jesus as God’s lamb (Jn 1:29,36) and this was picked up by the apostles: the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Pet 1:19) and in the Revelation vision of heaven, the one before the throne had the same identity: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” (Rev 5:6)

When they chose their lamb, each family was to hold on to it so that they would all do the same thing at the same time: 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.” (v.6). So far the focus is on the oneness of them as a people, all doing the same thing as prescribed by God, but next comes instructions that will prove very significant: “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.7) so that, “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.13) Of course the Lord knew those who were His but this putting blood on the doorposts is an act of faith, and act of obedience. In the same way “coming to Christ” means believing in his work on the Cross for us, his blood being shed for the forgiveness of our sins so that God’s judgment would pass over us and we remain unscathed.

Then come directions for the way the lamb is to be eaten – for it is NOT only to be USED, it is also to be ENJOYED as it is taken into each person. Taking this lamb into you was the human side of the act. Jesus was later to say, I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53) Becoming one with Jesus is as important as relying on his work on the Cross. Note the instructions: That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire–head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.” (v.8-10)

The meat was to be well and truly cooked, not in a rush, but as shepherds used to cook their meat. The bitter herbs in years to come would remind them of the bitter years they had served as slaves. Bread made without yeast reflected the haste with which they eventually left Egypt. To this last item was added, “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.” (v.11) They were to eat it all up at the meal in the night and anything left over was to be burnt; this is a one-off meal and their form of dress indicates they are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Try to catch the picture of these Israelites in the middle of the night holding their feast and waiting for God to act.

Finally comes the awful judgment that will come on Egypt: “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.” (v.12) The death of every first born is the judgment and in their helplessness to stop it, the so called ‘gods’ of Egypt are judged, found wanting, found powerless, found to be nonentities, figments of superstitious imaginations!  Yet for the Israelites, they will be passed over: “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.13). There it is, this is what will happen, God has decreed it.

These verses very much speak of community and today we are, as Christians, part of the community that the New Testament calls ‘the body of Christ’, the Church.  Individual local churches are important in that they give us local expression of this so we can each realise the wonder of it, but the bigger picture is that all Christians are part of the world-wide body of Christ, with no one greater and no one lesser than any other. Rejoice in who you are, a significant member of the body of Christ.

1. Circumstances

Meditations in Exodus:  1. Circumstances

Ex 1:5-7    The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.

Exodus has never before seemed to me to be a fruitful field for mediation but its seems to call and especially with the question, what can I learn from what I read? This obviously should always be the background question that must follow in study of the Bible after finding out first what the original writers sought to convey, else that study simply remains an intellectual exercise. But God’s word is here to teach us, challenge us and train us (see 2 Tim 3:16).

The account starts out by reminding us who were the sons of Israel who now found themselves in Egypt with old man Israel: eleven sons, Joseph already being there (1:1-5), seventy (or 75 according to the footnote) in all. They had come because of a famine that covered the whole of the area. Very clearly, in hindsight at least, God had used Joseph to become the bringer of wisdom to the king of Egypt, both foretelling the coming years of good then bad, and how to deal with the seven years of famine that would come. It is a complex story and one which had its origins right back with grandfather Abram being given the revelation by God of what would happen: Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and after ward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14). It is also a story of mystery.

Now why do I say that? Well, the question has to arise in the  thoughtful person, did God simply know that in the workings of this fallen world a famine would occur in the not too distant future or did He purposefully bring it?  Knowing it was coming, could He not have prevented it?  Knowing it was coming, did He have to allow Joseph to go through years of slavery and imprisonment before being brought into Pharaoh’s court with divine knowledge and wisdom to help him?  Knowing that Israel and his family would end up in Egypt could He not have told them to go back home after the famine was past so they did not end up in a disadvantageous position in the centuries to come? All good and valid questions!

Well there was a clue given two verses on: In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16)  Much, much later on in the story the Lord reveals that He has a threefold purpose  that will be revealed nearer the end of the story and it is well to keep these things in mind throughout:

  1. To bring judgment on Egypt for all their superstitious and occult-based idol worship and the intransigent pride of the Pharaoh who will be ruling in some four hundred years time,
  2. To being judgment on the Canaanites (‘Amorites’ is shorthand for the Canaanite mixed peoples) who will become another general people-group who will have degenerated into pagan occult idol worship of the most terrible kind, and
  3. To provide Israel with a home of their own, in a manner they will never forget and which will reveal amazing things about God.

Now of course  all these thing become clear only in retrospect.  How much of it all was simply the outworkings of a broken, fallen world, and the sinful goings on of people, and how much of it was the purposeful working of God we can never know. It is clear from Scripture that God works through His knowledge of what people will do and how they will respond, and so He will intervene in ways that help direct, guide or change the affairs of men.  He never seems to make men and women respond in the ways they do but He clearly knows how they will respond in given circumstances.

So what do these ponderings on the early affairs of life of Israel teach us?  Well first of all that the circumstances that we find ourselves in are a combination of:

  1. the workings of a broken and fallen world that ‘goes wrong’
  2. the activities of sinful human beings, including us! and
  3. the intervention and working of Almighty, all-knowing and all-wise God

Moreover, in respect of where we are in history, it comes from

  1. a life of interaction of all these things,
  2. many of which we will not be aware and
  3. which we do not know their destination, i.e. where they are taking us.

Does that leave a sense of lost-ness, for that is what a lot of people do genuinely feel deep down, and that is quite understandable.  If we do not believe in God, then life is just a random jumble. We may believe in God but a God who keeps things close to His chest and we are left in the dark. But that isn’t how it is supposed to be with Christians for the New Testament gives us a sense that there IS purpose and direction to our lives.

For example, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world…. he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment.”(Eph 1:4,9,10)  Then a little later on, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10)  Whatever else those verses say, they indicate God has plans and purposes and we are part of them.

So, is this world a mess of random and shamble-like circumstances. A mess? Yes, it seems like that sometimes. Random? Well not really but we’ve seen how various things interact with one another. Shamble-like?  Well it may seem like that sometimes but we need to remind ourselves of some fundamental truths: “Jesus said…, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (Jn 5:17) and  “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)  God does not sit around doing nothing. He has plans and purposes and He is constantly working on them and however we are involved He is working to bring good into our lives – in all things!

How much Israel was aware of being in God’s purposes we can’t be fully sure but there are certainly some things He was clear about and we’ll pick them up in the next study.

1. The God who is here

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:   1. The God who is here

Ex 20:1,2   And God spoke all these words:  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

I have previously written a series of meditations on the Law of Moses, which included the Ten Commandments, so why am I doing them again? Well, the other day as I neared the end of the previous series I was writing, I prayed one morning, “Lord where am I to go next, for I haven’t a clue.” Later that same day an elderly Christian lady in our church rang me up (and she didn’t know I had been praying this) and said, “The Lord told me to tell you to do the Ten Commandments when you next do a new series.” God who communicates!

I had just finished a series on “Great Themes in John’s Gospel” which has left me feeling how great the Bible is and how wonderful it is that we can see new things after many years of reading the same words, so I trust that as we go into this new series we may go with a sense of anticipation. I have called it ‘The Wonders of the Ten Commandments’ because I have a feeling we take them for granted and so I approach them with that feeling stirring me!

The Ten Commandments appear in Ex 20 and Deut 5. In Exodus it was the first time they were conveyed by God to Moses and in Deuteronomy it is Moses reminding the people of what had happened, just before he left them and they entered the Promised Land.

Oh how we take words for granted: And God spoke all these words.” If you are an unbelieving skeptic then of course you will struggle with this but then you will struggle with all of the Bible. All I can do is ask you to open your mind to the possibility and see if you can catch the reality as we go through these studies. Yes, these words came to be written down on stone or slate slabs but initially they are spoken out loud so that Moses hears them as he stands in God’s presence on Mount Sinai (otherwise known as Horeb). But this is the wonder of the Bible record; it shows us a God who communicates with us – and if you are a Jew or Christian you take that for granted, but in some other world religions they have gods or idols who stay silent and offer nothing to their adherents. But here in the Biblical record we have a God who made this world and who interacts with this world and speaks to individuals in this world.

His first words here in this part describe who He is, who it is communicating with Moses, “I am the LORD your God.”  Note the capital letters used for LORD. To see why that is you need to go back to Ex 3 where God first makes contact with Moses and describes Himself.  First of all He says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6)  In other words, I am the God you have been told about who has had dealings with your patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  There is a continuity of history even at this stage. But then, after Moses had asked His name, who he should tell the Israelites had sent him,  He had gone on to say, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14)

In the following verses we then find God speaking, “Say to the Israelites, `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, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation,” (v.15) and there is a footnote that “the word for LORD (in capital letters) sounds like and may be  derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14.”  Therefore from then on when God’s ‘name’ is used it is always in this form and may be taken as “The I AM” or, the eternal one, if you like. Verse 15 links the earlier v.6 with that later reference in verse 14. God identifies Himself as not only as ‘the eternal one’, the one outside history, but also the God of the patriarchs, the God who has had dealings with men. He is the God who works into history.

But there is a further historical dimension to our verse above, “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  He can now be identified as the one who delivered Israel miraculously out of the hands of the most powerful despot in the world. There are those who would wish to acclaim the Ten Commandments as the most sublime and perfect set of laws the world has seen (but we will see that in reality they don’t mean that), and they would like to leave it at that, but that ignores the context.

These are laws that God gives to His chosen people, a people who have come to know Him through His dealings with them both through the patriarchs and now through the release from slavery. This is not to say that these laws cannot be adhered to by those who have not become believers but, as we shall see, when the first four are all about attitudes towards God Himself, it is difficult to see how they can be adopted in total by those who would reject Him. When we come to see each individual law, we will see that outside of God it has no foundation and reason to be followed. God Himself puts meaning into each law and without Him they are mere tokens of civilization!

So the first thing about these ten commands, is not how wonderful they are as simple laws, but the fact that they are laws given by God, the maker of the universe, the one who has designed this world to work in a particular and now reveals something of that way to us. Get ready!

13. A Plan

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 13. A Plan

Gen 12:11-13    As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, `This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

People sometimes get confused with the Bible when they are asked, “Is it all inspired?” The answer has to be “Yes!”, for “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3:16) but that doesn’t mean to say that we take everything we read as right and an example to be followed. In Job, for example, we find his three friends saying wrong things and so we need to discern what was right in their discussions. In Ecclesiastes we find Solomon writing out of a period in his life when he has lost contact with God. There is much to learn in it but we must realise the context. Now here in the story of Abram we find him following a course of action which is only a half truth and we cannot say we should follow his example here.

What we must do is remember what we’ve said before: this is the story of a man whose faith is embryonic and he is feeling his way through life and not getting it all right. We’ll see more of this as the story progresses. In this instance Abram does not pray and seek God for protection as he goes intoEgypt. He hasn’t learned to do that yet, as many young Christians don’t learn it until later in life. Instead he hatches a plan for his own protection, though it may not go well for Sarai. Not good!

At the heart of his scheme is fear. He fears that when he goes into the land and the powerful people there see his beautiful wife they will kill him to take her. The only way, as he sees it, is to distance himself from Sarai in some way. So he tells her to say that she is merely his sister. Now, as we said before, there is a half truth in this. We find at a later incident him explaining, “she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.” (Gen 20:12) In other words Terah had either been married before, or had two wives or had a second wife when the first one presumably died, and through the other woman had had Sarai. She was, in fact, Abram’s step-sister.

As the story progresses, we will see that it is the Lord who protects her, but Abram wasn’t to know that. Put very simply, he has hatched a human plan to protect himself that involves a half-truth and putting his wife at risk. Not very honourable – but he knows no better. Note, as we said before, the Lord doesn’t reject him. The Lord will not approve this course of action, but He will also not reject this man with his young faith. What reassurance! How many times in our lives have we been godless (not referring our problems to Him) and planned our own way through our difficulties in ways that have been less than perfect, if not less than good?   The reality is that on our own (and the ‘old nature’ is just waiting to rise up and do its own thing without reference to God) we have done this and will do this many times before we get to heaven. Of course the Lord wants us to learn to refer everything to Him, but it IS a learning process and that means it happens slowly and gradually.

Please see the truth here of what we have been saying. This is why Jesus died – for our sins, big ones and little ones, sins of commission (thing we do wrong) and sins of omission (where we should have done something). Where you are, is not where God wants you to be; He wants you to change! He has something better for you than you are now.  If you are still following this behaviour pattern as much in five years as you are now, you haven’t learnt what the Lord is trying to teach you.

The Scripture is quite clear. When you don’t know how to do something, or you can’t see the way through difficulties, ASK the Lord: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5) and “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There it is: talk to the Lord about these sorts of things. Look to Him for answers. But if you are sufficiently young in the faith, and forget to do this, the Lord will not reject you – just give you some more difficulties until you do learn to do this! Be blessed!