22. 2 Chronicles

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 22.  2 Chronicles

2 Chron 36:15,16   The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place / But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets / until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

I choose these two verses from 2 Chronicles as the highlights of this book as they summarize everything else that had gone on, and explain how the book concludes in the way it does. There are three parts to it, I suggest, and I have put dividers in the above verses to show those divisions.

It starts with God. Now we might expect that a book on history, which is what 2 Chronicles basically is, should start with a focus on people because usually history is all about how people have acted in different periods of ‘history’. However, the Bible is all about God and the revelation of His purposes for the earth and specifically, as He sought to use Israel to reveal Himself and His plans and purposes to the rest of the world. So it starts out with God’s activity.

I am tempted to produce a long list of references showing how God spoke into the life of Israel and its kings from the period of the reign of Solomon to the Exile but instead I will simply recommend you read the book and make the list yourself. The truth is that God spoke again and again into the lives of these people and, says the recorder, it was because He had pity on His people.  Now that is quite remarkable for I have to confess if it had been me overseeing Israel’s history I would have been first of all frustrated, then annoyed and finally angry with Israel, and all that quite quickly – but God held back again and again and again.

As I have studied the judgments of God in detail, the thing that amazed me most of all is that during the period of the kings of the two kingdoms, was the Lord’s restraint. I have concluded that there must be various reasons why this was so, but ultimately the thing that stands out most, in the apostle Peter’s words,  is that He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 pet 3:9) or, to apply that to the period of the Kings, He was giving them opportunity after opportunity to learn from past mistakes and eventually get it right.

However, that is where one of my favourite quotes kicks in: “The one thing that history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing.” i.e. we fail to learn from the past! This takes us into the second part of these verses and we see here the folly of Israel as the recorder observes, “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets”.  And we might add – and kept on doing it!

That is the tragedy of the Old Testament historical record – that Israel failed to learn and, instead of rising to greatness with the wonder of all the things that God had done for them, especially in their early days,  they mocked the prophets, they despised what they were saying and generally made fun of them. These were men (and the occasional woman) who sought to get Israel back into a good place with God, but again and again and again the folly of Sin broke through and they continued to worship idols and pick up on other nations’ false religions.

For those who have never thought about these things, the last part may come as a shock: “until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” Anger, or wrath, is a signpost within our consciousness that things around us are going wrong and are contrary to what we feel is right or just or fair. It is, in fact, right to become angry in the presence of such things, but what we do with our anger is another matter. Bear in mind that we are talking about God tolerating Israel’s folly for centuries, and we see that God’s anger is not hasty! Now in assessing the judgments of God throughout the Bible, as I have noted before in these studies, ‘terminal judgments’ are those which involve death and destruction (as against ‘disciplinary judgments’ which are designed to change people’s minds) and in the light of how long it takes for God to bring a terminal judgment, I have also named them as “judgments of the last resort”, i.e. God only brings them when He sees there is no hope of getting the people to change. “There was no remedy” or there was no other way to stop what was going on.

That is why in the last chapter of 2 Chronicles we have the record of King Nebuchadnezzar coming and destroying Jerusalem and taking most of its inhabitants into exile. The book was either compiled much later than the events recorded, or there was a postscript added for the book concludes with the record of King Cyrus, decades later, under the inspiration and direction of God, sending back the Jews to rebuild, first the temple and then the walls of Jerusalem. There are two major events in the life of Israel: the Exodus and the Exile.

The Exodus had brought them out of Egypt, taken them to Mount Sinai to become a nation before God, and then on into the Promised Land forty years later. The Exile was the ‘last resort’ action of God to take Israel out of the Land to be purged of their idolatry while in Babylon until they could be brought back forty years later. It would appear that the presence of God was absent from Jerusalem for a unique period, since the reign of David who captured Jerusalem and made it his capital, a period of seventy years, as prophesied by Jeremiah, from the destruction of the Temple until its rebuilding completion.

These are enormous sweeps of history and they reveal the wonder of the plans and purposes of God stretching over centuries and millennia. Living with our slow day by day lives, it is difficult to comprehend such long periods and the things that went on in them, which is why the last chapter of 2 Chronicles is such a remarkable record. We may not be able to see much significance as we look back over our lives, and find it difficult to think about the years yet ahead, but both are still within the ambit of the plans of God. Someone once wrote, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origins and culture is like a tree without roots.” The book of 2 Chronicles provides that history and God-culture for Israel and provides endless learning resources that we can apply into our lives today as part of the Church.

Perhaps these notes will challenge us to also become more knowledgeable about the beginnings and history of the Church so that we may see ourselves in a greater perspective. In one of his books, author Terry Pratchett wrote, “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become part of someone else’s story.” Your story with God is your testimony. Like Israel’s, it probably has highs and lows, but if it reveals the love and goodness of God, we have indeed had our eyes opened to reality, and that is worth sharing.

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4. Exodus (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 4.  Exodus (2)

Ex 33:13,18  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people…. Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

In these two verses there are two requests, one fairly obvious and the other quite mysterious, but both of them stand out as revealing the depth of the relationship that had formed between the Lord and Moses. Perhaps we need to observe what had been going on to catch the reasoning behind these two requests.

Moses, we saw in the last meditation, had encountered the Lord at the burning bush on what was in fact Mount Sinai, while looking after his sheep (which he had been doing for forty years there in the wilderness of Midian and into the Sinai Peninsular). There he had received his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt. This had all happened and as they left Egypt, the Lord had provided a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them. He had guided them across the south of the Sinai Peninsular to Mount Sinai where He had revealed His presence in the cloud on the mountain and entered into covenant with Israel, giving them the Ten Commandments and other laws by which to guide their community life. The promise was still there that He would yet lead them into the Promised Land, Canaan.

While at the mountain Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and seventy elders had been called up the mountain to meet with the Lord and we read, amazingly, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) You may think that that was so amazing, it should be the focus of our meditation, but I simply mention it because it is just another of the many encounters with the Lord that Israel had. Moses gets called up on the mountain alone again and while he is there Israel become restive and the awful events involving a golden calf occur (Ex 32) which results in Moses having to intercede for the people. Nevertheless, those involved are put to death and the Lord sends plague on the people, perhaps killing off the guilty ones who had been missed in the executions.

Now following all this, and it is all very significant in respect of our two verses, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to Canaan (Ex 33:1) but He would not come with them lest He destroyed them – implied, for their sinfulness – and it is in the light of this that Moses makes the first of his two requests, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) i.e. if I am to lead this people by myself, I want to know that I am doing it in the way you will approve. I need to know ‘your ways’, the ways you think and work. If I am to be your servant and get this right, I need to know what you would do in each circumstance.

Now this puts me in mind of the bracelets that were fashionable a while back with WWJD on them – “What would Jesus DO?”  They would be a reminder of the way Jesus worked, and I believe there was even a book that followed this idea through. It is an idea which appears to have merit. We know something of Jesus’ character in the Gospels and so we can imagine how Jesus might act – full of love and goodness – in the circumstances we find ourselves in. The only problem with that, is that it virtually recreates the Law and is godless! I mean we can live without reference to the Lord.

Look at the answer the Lord gave Moses to his first request: “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v.14) Note the Lord doesn’t give Moses instruction as to His ways; He simply says My presence will be with you.  Now this is monumental! Moses catches something of this: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (v.15,16) i.e. I recognize that your presence with us is what will make us different from any other people, because you will be God and do what you do, and I can rely on that. It is as if Moses’ pleading has brought a change of mind between verses 3 and 14. The Lord will go with them; how else will they be a holy people?

Now what is the parallel today? It surely must be the fact of the indwelling Holy Spirit in each of us. His presence goes with us. Do we have a set of rules to guide us? Well yes, we have the teaching of the whole of the New Testament, but when it comes to specific, individual situations where the way is not clear, we need Him to inspire us, guide us and teach us, and He is there within us to do that. That is how significant His present-day presence is.

But Moses isn’t content with a sense of a far-off presence of the Lord, he needed something more. Yes, he’s been through the exodus, he’s led the people to Sinai, he’s had amazing encounter after amazing encounter with the Lord there, and even apparently ‘seen’ the Lord (Ex 24:10) but presumably that was a vision, for they had all lived and as wonderful as that had been, Moses needs reassuring. I want to see you! Really see you!

Essentially in what follows the Lord says, “I’ll let you see a tiny part of me, but not full on.” The impression of Scripture is that if you see the ‘face’ of God it is so full of light, splendour and power (all of that is His glory) that you could not cope with it but would die on the spot. What is amazing is that Moses had the temerity to ask this. What is more incredible is the Lord’s gentle dealing with him. He does not scold him or tell him off. It is almost as if He is pleased with Moses asking this, even though He knows he cannot grant it if Moses is to live.

What am I left with here? My call is to ‘follow’ Jesus, that means go as his Spirit calls me and guides me and directs me, and if along the way I ask presumptuous things, he will put up with me and just take me on. He delights in me stretching out in faith, even if sometimes it verges on presumption. When you have little children, you don’t expect them to always get it right, do you? You understand their enthusiasm, even when it is misjudged. You know they will grow up and mature, and that is how it is with us and the Lord. Hallelujah!

3. Exodus (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 3.  Exodus (1)

Ex 3:7-10  The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them ….So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

On into Exodus the episode at the burning bush has to be a highlight that surpasses most but the danger will be that we focus on Moses, for chapters 3 and 4 are all about him arguing with God, but it is the bigger context that is all-important in respect of our verses above. As we noted in the previous meditation Israel, the family, had ended up in Egypt and we suggested the handiwork of God behind this, preparing for the Exodus, but it is even bigger than this. Was it a coincidence or an accident that Israel were in Egypt? Definitely not; not either of those two things.  All of this had been spoken about by the Lord to Abram over four hundred years before (Gen 15:13,14), as we saw before, but that previous warning had been as much about the land they would find themselves in, as the Exodus itself.

The fact was that Egypt had become a blot on the world’s landscape, the world God had created as perfect, a world where people would be at peace, relating to one another in peace and harmony, and similarly with God. What do we find in Egypt? A land full of idols, a people who see ‘gods’ at every turn, a people who turn to occult powers and who even sacrifice children to their gods and the powers, a people utterly self-absorbed and a people who are utterly godless. One of the problems of such a nation is that so often they become dominant and start invading and overtaking other nations and taking their pagan worship further and further afield. In other words, they are like a contagious disease that keeps on spreading. God, in His wisdom, knows that such things can only be tolerated for so long.

So, that is the basis of the Exodus, the land where Israel find themselves, and here is the terrible thing: they could have left at any time but they didn’t. When they entered the land originally, they came with the prestige of being the family of the Prime Minister of the land, Joseph. As shepherds, they were despised (Gen 46:34) but Joseph had given them the area of Goshen, (Gen 45:10) which was considered the best of the land (Gen 45:18) and ideal for raising sheep. There they had prospered and grown and over the next four hundred years, some suggest they had grown in excess of two million people. As such they had become a threat to the current Pharaoh (Ex 1:9,10) who made them slaves. However, during that four hundred years, it would appear they settled and became like the Egyptians and there are historic and prophetic indications they even took on board some of the idols of Egypt, or at least took some of them with them when they left Egypt (see Josh 24:14 & Ezek 20:7-9).

The exodus was to become a threefold strategy. First it was to deliver Israel out of this land to go to a new land, Canaan. Second, it was to judge Egypt for the things we’ve noted above and, third, it was to judge Canaan for these same things. That is the background and that is the bigger strategy for all we find here.

Now let’s step down and look away from the big picture to what takes place here. The Lord catches Moses’ attention by the burning bush and then speaks to him. Observe the number of things the Lord says:

Part 1: The things He has done and the end result:

  • “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.
  • I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers,
  • and I am concerned about their suffering. (v.7) The end result

Part 2: What HE intends to do and what He wants MOSES to do:

  • So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians
  • and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land (v.8)
  • So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10)

What are we seeing here? First, yet again, we see God with a plan. Second, we see that He has a plan because He watches over the earth and, in particular, over the people He has chosen, He understands their need, and He is moved by it. Third and, from our point of view, the most significant thing, He wants to use Moses to achieve their deliverance.

Now why is that so significant? Because He could so easily have brought a devastating plague judgment (or simply wiped them out with a word – He IS God!) that would have dealt with the sins of Egypt and then the sins of Canaan, but He decides against doing that. Instead we have the long record (chapters 5 to 12) in Exodus of how He dealt with Egypt and an even longer record (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges) in dealing with Canaan. So why adopt this method? Pure suggestions.

First that the record will be there, in detail, that lays out the sins, the warnings, and the methods involved that enabled those on the receiving end to repent at any point along the way. Second, through this record, it will reveal the goodness, grace and mercy of God as against the sinfulness, pride and arrogance and stupidity of fallen mankind. Third, in using people, they will be changed and their relationship with the Lord deepened. Moses was a transformed man. Israel were a transformed people. Summarizing these three things, it is all about revelation and transformation.

And that’s where it comes to us. In all His dealings with us, the Lord wishes to reveal more and more of Himself to us. He wants us to know who it is that we are related to in the heavenly realms. That is the revelation side. On the other side, He wants to deliver us from being the self-centred godless people we were before we encountered Him, that produced wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong actions that were harmful to ourselves and harmful to others. We were a damaged people, and so the work of salvation is about transforming us, healing us up, changing us so we are something completely different, a people characterized by love and goodness, peace and harmony, and who reveal Him to others around us. That, I believe, is what we find in these verses.

77. Leaving Sinai

(We pick up again to work to complete our travels in the Exodus)

Part 8: Sinai to Kadesh

Meditations in Exodus: 77.  Leaving Sinai

Num 10:11,12  On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.

According to dates in Exodus, the Israelites had been at Sinai eleven months. They had received the Law and the Covenant had been established and the Tabernacle set up in the centre of the camp. Now the pillar of cloud starts to move. We continue the story of the Exodus in the book of Numbers and from Chapter 10:   They set out, this first time, at the LORD’s command through Moses.” (v.13) Whether at the first sign of the cloud moving Moses calls the leaders to break camp is unclear. In the earlier part of chapter 10 here, the Lord gives instructions for two trumpets to be made and they will be blown at Moses’ instruction to signify the breaking of camp. That presumably happens

Our verses above tell us they travelled to the Desert of Paran which is a large desert area across the north of the Sinai Peninsular but Num 11:35 shows us they went via Kibroth Hattaavah and Hazeroth before they finally got there. Later in chapter 10 we read, “So they set out from the mountain of the LORD and travelled for three days.” (10:33) This is three days before the next incident is recorded.

Now before we move on to that, it is worth pondering the state of mind that should be in Israel when they leave Sinai. They had been there almost for a year and much had happened in that time although it was spaced out. They had watched the Lord’s spectacular display of clouds, thunder and lightning and trumpets, they had seen Moses go up and down the mountain to meet with God and to come back and record the laws the Lord had given to him. Moses and his leaders had gone up the mountain and ‘seen’ God. They had then seen Moses go up the mountain for forty days and they had become restless so that a group of them basically rebelled and demanded a visible god which Aaron gave them. When Moses came back down, judgment was brought on this group. The Lord had subsequently called Moses up the mountain for a further forty days and this time no one dared stray. Moses came back down  and the next record we have is of the cloud starting to lead them off.

They have much to think about. They are now a unique people in covenant with God. There is no other nation on earth like this. Now perhaps they struggle to grasp that concept because they are, at the moment, just a group of people of one ethnic group, wandering through the desert and, unlike other nations, they do not yet have their own land so, to be fair to them, it may be a little difficult to grasp the whole idea – but they nevertheless have all the testimony of what went on at Sinai. More than that they have the testimony of their journey to Sinai and all of the wonder of leaving Egypt. That journey, we said, to Sinai had been used by the Lord to build trust in the people for the Lord.

Bear that in mind as we now read, “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down.” (Num 11:1,2) Now we need to note, we’re into a very different ball-game now from that previous journey. On the trip from Egypt to Sinai, the had complained a number of times but each time the Lord had simply provided for them. On this journey they have only got to start grumbling and the Lord sends a disciplinary judgment – fire that burns the outskirts of the camp. Was that where the grumbling was I wonder?  So often grumbling comes from the periphery of the church, those only half committed to the church. No lives appear threatened but what has changed? Sinai!

It seems as if from now on the Lord EXPECTS Israel to get it together better than they did and when they get it wrong now, He deals with them. No longer does He just provide; now He challenges them. This is that accountability thing again and He has clearly raised the bar of His expectations in respect of them. They have had so many unique experiences over the past couple of years, more than you and I can ever expect to have in our entire lifetime, that really and truly they OUGHT to have learned. We won’t go over their testimony again, we’ve done it at least twice already. The simple lesson: they have no excuses.

Now having said that about them, can I say it gently, how about us?  We may not have been around seeing plagues and all the other stuff we’ve been seeing in these studies, but how about THE Book, how about the INDWELLING Holy Spirit, how about GIFTED MINISTRIES in the Church, how about the TESTIMONIES of great saints down through the ages, we have all this.

Our younger son used to do high jump. He’s very tall but he could easily jump over a bar higher than his head. I say ‘could easy jump’ but whenever we went to watch him jump for competitions and every time he started his semi-circular run up to approach that bar, I held my breath, inwardly thinking, he can’t do that’ it’s impossible –  but he did it until he was the last one left jumping. The bar has been set high but you can do it, God has given you the grace to do it, whatever the ‘it’ is that God has put before you and you’ve been backing away from. You have His word, you have the Law, you have the testimony of all he has done and specifically done for you, you have His Holy Spirit, you CAN do it. No more excuses, you are not Israel, you are a child of God with all that that means. Do it! Go for it! Be blessed!

4. The Horror of Genocide

Meditations in Exodus: 4. The Horror of Genocide

Ex 1:22    Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.

Pharaoh has pressed Israel into slavery and now he takes a further step which is virtual genocide – but not quite. He calls for every baby boy born to the Hebrews to be put to death, not the girls, just the boys. Presumably this is a long-term expedient to weaken Israel in terms of manpower in the years to come. It is silly really, even from a practical point of view because it is going to be many years before it will have effect, but then sin makes us do silly things!

But then of course it grossly exceeds silliness because it is outright barbarism, so much so that it forced itself to my attention as something we should think about and not just quickly pass by. For anyone who thinks the human race is basically ‘good’, a quick study of genocide remedies that very quickly. How anyone in their right mind can purposefully seek to wipe out a complete people says a great deal about their state of mind and indeed their who outlook on life

Now there appear to be two stages to what takes place in this situation in Egypt. There appear to be two Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, (v.15) presumably head midwives  for there would surely be a greater need than just two. The king instructs them to kill every boy being born (v16) at the moment of its arrival, but the midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. (v.17) When the king questions them (v.18) they say the Hebrew women have their babies too quickly before the midwife arrives (v.19) and the record stands, “So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” (v.20,21)  God continues to bless His people and it is then that we read this instruction: “Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” (v.22)

Now one wonders why death by this means, why take the babies to the primary source of fertility in their land and pollute it with hundreds of dead bodies, unless there is some ‘religious’ significance to this?  Now we will see as we go on that Egypt had many ‘gods’ and the god of the Nile was Hapi  (or Hapy depending on your source) who was a god of fertility but not a particularly important god, because the Egyptians took for granted the annual flooding of the Nile bringing fertile sediment to the land. How much easier it would have been for Pharaoh to appoint a small contingent of executioners to accompany the midwives and execute each young male baby they came across – but he didn’t, he required them to throw the babies in the Nile. Years later Herod obviously sent out squads of soldiers to kill every child two years and under, in his attempt to destroy baby Jesus (Mt 2:16). It may have been an indication of the location of the Hebrew people, perhaps near the Nile in Goshen, at least along one of the tributaries, or it may have been offering Hapi a sacrifice to encourage his ongoing inundation of the Nile every year. A mystery, but mystery or not, a horror!

It is too easy to pass by this sort of thing. Wikipedia states The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) defines genocide in part as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”  We are probably all aware of the Holocaust killing between 6 and 11 million Jews in Hitler’s desire to completely exterminate them, but in the 20th century probably few of us are aware that 75% of Armenians in Turkey were killed between 1915 and 1916, probably somewhere between  800,000 to 1,800,000. We’re probably also not aware of approximately 275,000 Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire who were slaughtered during 1915-23, or between 450,000 to 900,000 Greeks  massacred by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918, and in Cambodia, a genocide that was carried out by the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot and which killed an estimated one and a half to three million people between 1975 and 1979. Perhaps we have forgotten the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that killed between 500,000 and a million people, and so the list goes on and on – within the last century!

If these seem further afield geographically, consider the Dresden bombings by the Allies in the Second World War, where casualties were thought to possibly exceed 100,000. The bombing of Coventry in similar style was, thankfully, puny by comparison with a little over a thousand. In each case the desire to wipe out industry also meant the deaths of men, women and children. These then stand alongside the up to a 145,000 killed in Hiroshima and up to 80,000 in Nagasaki. Now in each case of the four destructions in this paragraph the intent was not to expressly wipe out a people but to reduce the length of war, and thus they may be almost excused as not being genocide – but they were still mass killings by the human race on the human race.

The unscholarly atheist critics of the destruction of Canaan often use the word genocide but that is  a gross distortion of the truth. Taking all the instructions in the Pentateuch to Israel as to how they should go about taking the land, the vast majority of references are to ‘driving out’ the inhabitants and only a very few to destroying them. Although there are instances of men, women and children being destroyed in the Old Testament, the instructions in respect of Canaan were not one of them.

The reality is that there are judgements in the Bible (not as many as some might like to think) where a people are wiped out – the Flood being one of them, but in those rare instances the conclusion has to be drawn that that degenerate state of that people destroyed was so bad it was more of a surgical judgement than anything else, to prevent it getting any worse and destroying the earth completely. Examinations of such people reveal things like child sacrifice and worse and we would be remiss if we failed to note that in primitive times (as in modern times!!!!) there was often no stopping killing and differentiating between men, women or children in war battles.

To conclude, we should probably also note that where Israel were involved, actions against other people were almost invariably cases of defence and fighting for survival. The Holocaust was not the first attempt at wiping out the Jews. The whole point of the book of Esther, is about the survival of the people of Israel under foreign rulers where the intent was to entirely wipe them out. One should wonder at the hostility that has been raised against the people of Israel through the centuries and recognise the rebellion of the world against God – and His people. Psa 2 expresses it well.

Is genocide ever acceptable? No!  Should the voice of the world be raised against it wherever it appears? Yes, of course. Why do wars occur? The Sin of a Fallen World. Is killing in war ever justified? Justified is an inappropriate word. If it is a case of fighting to defend and survive, and fighting involves killing, where evil rises up, the lesser evil may be essential to prevent the greater evil spreading. Israel in Egypt were not an evil and so Pharaoh’s instructions were pure evil.

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.

7. The Promise of the Land

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 7. The Promise of the Land

Gen 12:6,7    At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

In trying to plot the big steps along the path of human history recorded in the Bible or, to put it another way, to identify the most important features that stand out in the history recorded in the Bible,  following the Exodus (including the giving of the Law to Moses) we must pause and gaze with awe at the whole phenomena of the ‘Promised Land’, a subject that has caused contention from the days of Abram right through to the present days.  Let’s consider first of all how God revealed His intentions in respect of Canaan and then in the next study how Israel eventually took it, for both are steps in themselves that should be observed when we are trying to understand the broad scope of Biblical history.

First of all how God revealed His intentions. Prior to our verse above we find, The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) That had been the start but now Abram is in the land the Lord says this will be the land of his descendants. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his family lived in it but eventually left it, as we noted previously, because of a massive famine and for the following centuries lived in Egypt. But then God revealed His plan to deal with Pharaoh and Egypt and within part of that plan showed it was His intent that Canaan should become the home of Israel.

Again, as we previously noted, He revealed this to Abram a number of times  The next time after the initial verses in 12:1-3 we see, “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14,15) He reiterated this in 15:7 and  then at the evening covenant ceremony he explained about the exodus in some four hundred years’ time (Gen 15:13-16) and reiterated it in 17:8 – “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”  Note the words in these various verses that speak of the length or duration of their occupation of this land: “to your offspring forever (13:15) and “as an everlasting possession,” (17:8)

Later the Lord reiterated this to Isaac (26:1-4) and then later to Jacob: “There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying… I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:13,15)  See also 35:12. Jacob later conveyed this to Joseph in Egypt – see 48:3,4.

To ‘fulfil’ this Jacob later instructs his sons, Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field.” (Gen 49:29,30) This subsequently happened – see Gen 50:12. Later on Joseph would do the same thing instructing his brothers to take his bones to Canaan (Gen 50:24,25) which Moses later did (see Ex 13:19) and then later Joshua made happen (Josh 24:34).

Thus we see very clearly, it was declared to each of the Patriarchs that God’s intent was for Israel to have this land when they returned after the Exodus and to have it for ever. Before we  move on to the next study and consider just how Israel went about taking Canaan, a major event with serious consequences, it might be well to consider the big picture and see long-term what happened to Israel, the land.

Israel eventually took it, as we will see in the next study,  and the date is likely to have been somewhere around 1200BC.  For roughly the next two hundred years they lived in it under the rule of judges, followed in roughly the next hundred years by the rules of Saul, David and Solomon. After Solomon’s reign the land was divided into two kingdoms, so-called Israel in the north comprising ten of the tribes and so-called Judah in the south comprising the Judah and Benjamin. The division was about 930BC and Israel continued until the fall of Samaria and deportation of the occupants of the northern kingdom in 722BC.  Judah continued on until the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC when most of the occupants of the land were taken to Babylon where there remained for the next 40 years. The ‘Exile’ was the first time they completely lost the land. Throughout the period of Jesus’ ministry and that of the early church in Jerusalem, Rome ruled over the land but Israel, the nation, still occupied it.

In AD70 there was a Jewish rebellion and the might of Rome crushing it, completely destroyed Jerusalem. Since then, until the middle of the twentieth century, Israel were scattered across the face of the globe. The vision in Rev 12 appears to show a woman, Israel, bearing a son, Jesus, but being chased into the desert by a dragon (Satan) for a period of three and a half years. In prophecy seven is the number of completion and the suggestion is that for the first part of God’s plan, Israel would be scattered into the world to be preserved and thus the returning to the land in the middle of the twentieth century would seem to suggest that we are now in the second part of God’s long-term plans for this land and this nation. Watch this space!

Without doubt, therefore, the ‘Promised Land’ is a key part in God’s plan to reveal Himself to the world and every time there has been a threat to it, He has been there  on behalf of His people and on behalf of His long-term plan for the land. It is amazing that such a small piece of land should have such strategic importance in God’s plans. When we get to the Exile we shall see the detailed activity of the Lord to preserve the land and the nation, even to the point of guiding and directing major pagan kings. Incredible!