16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

Advertisements

14. Manasseh

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 14. The Strange Story of Manasseh

2 Chron 33:10-13 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.

 Manasseh in outline: We have so far been examining some of the lives of the well-known figures of the earlier part of the Old Testament, the Patriarchs, then Moses, then David. Now we consider a king who strangely reigned 55 years in the southern kingdom of Judah, Manasseh, who in a simple summary did evil and was carried off to Babylon (2 Chron 33:1-11) and there repented & was restored (2 Chron 33:12-20). The account above shows the hand of the Lord in his affairs

  • Bringing Assyria against him, resulting in him being taken to Babylon,
  • Being moved by his prayers of repentance and restoring him to Judah.

Manasseh’s work of restoration: Subsequently Manasseh, “got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. (v.15) Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel. (v.16) The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the LORD their God. (v.17) Now what is remarkable about all this is the depth of wrong-doing that he had sunk to before all this happened.

Manasseh’s sin: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple…. Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.”  (2 Chron 33:2-7,9), i.e. he:

  • Followed the ways of the Canaanites (v.2)
  • Rebuilt high places, erected altars to Baal, made Asherah poles (v.3)
  • Built wrong altars in the temple (v.4,5)
  • Sacrificed his sons and practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft (v.6)
  • Put a carved image in the temple (v.7)
  • Did more evil than the Canaanites had done (v.9)

The Lord’s Judgment: We need to see God’s word of judgment, prior to the events recorded above, as we find it in 2 Kings for, in the light of the above, it is equally remarkable: “The LORD said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.” (2 Kings 21:10-15)

  • The Lord’s word (v.10) which is probably an expansion of 2 Chron 33:10 – see above.
  • His sin is worse than the Canaanites before him (v.11)
  • Therefore disaster will come on Jerusalem and Judah (v.12)
  • Jerusalem will be wiped out (v.13)
  • They will we handed over to their enemies (v.14)
  • And this is all because of what they have continued to do (v.15)

A Major Question: The question has to arise, in the light of this incredibly strong word of judgment on Manasseh and Jerusalem and Judah, how did it come about that these things – the destruction of Jerusalem – did NOT happen for another half century?

Answers? One can only suggest the following. Scripture is quite clear that even when the Lord has spoken judgment, when repentance comes, that repentance causes the Lord to ‘change His mind’ so that He does not bring that judgment. Thus at the end of Manasseh’s reign there is no indication of this destructive judgment falling on Jerusalem. So why did it eventually happen? Observe the kings who followed Manasseh.

Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent. Was assassinated by his officials within two years. Did he steer God’s eyes back towards that threat of destruction?

Josiah:  A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) who sought the Lord (34:1-3), cleansed the land (34:4-7), restored the temple (34:8-13), renewed the Covenant (34:14-33), celebrated the Passover (35:12-19) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27). One might assume he put Judah in a better light before God.

Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4

Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11 year reign.

Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.

Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11 year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)

Back to Manasseh: Thus, after Manasseh, of the six kings who followed before Jerusalem was destroyed, only Josiah was good. This, despite the prophetic warnings that came again and again, the kings and their subjects refused to turn back to the Lord and thus the word originally spoken against Manasseh was now fulfilled. It was only Manasseh’s repentance that put it off and one cannot help feeling that of each subsequent king has similarly turned to the Lord, that destruction would never have happened.

What have we learned? We have seen murderers and adulterers in these studies and Manasseh encapsulates the summary that “however bad you are, if there is genuine repentance, salvation (redemption) will follow”.  We referred to God’s words through Ezekiel and perhaps we need to conclude with them here to remind ourselves of the Lord’s heart:Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 19:31,32) and, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek 323:11) Be quite clear, God’s heart is to redeem whenever there is repentance.

11. The Downfalls of David (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 11. The Downfalls of David (3)

2 Sam 24:1   Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

1 Chron 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

 A Complex Story: We come to a strange ‘failure’ in David’s life, one that bears some consideration in this whole subject of redemption. It is a difficult and complex story for there are a number of unclear points within it and we will consider each of them. Each time we must seek to see what is happening and why and, in the midst of it, also note how David responds in it all.

God’s Anger: The first difficulty is that “Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel,” Again? We are not told a) what previous causes there had been for the Lord to be angry and b) we are not told what the present cause is.  There is clearly something that is very wrong in Israel – yes, even under David. The people did not necessarily have the same heart as their king, and this is seen a number of times in the Old Testament period.  At such times, where we are ignorant of the background, we have to remind ourselves that God is a just judge and also a loving one and so when we find judgments involving death, what I call ‘judgments of the last resort’ (meaning they are the last thing the Lord resorts to, to save the nation and the world) we need to see them through that filter.

David or Israel? We then come to the second difficulty which is the question, is this to do with Israel’s wrong doing or David’s wrong doing?  Well, in both versions of this story – seen in both 2 Sam 24 and 1 Chron 21 – we see it is expressly against Israel, the people. However we might suggest that, seeing the way David responded, the Lord also saw in David an attitude that needed confronting and so this incident deals with both Israel and David.

And Us? Now as an aside to the story, we need to consider this under the umbrella of redemption and consider how it applies as a principle today. I have observed over the years, in both myself and other leaders that I have known, the Lord provoking situations that apparently cause our downfall, specifically to deal with wrong attitudes that have sprung up and prevailed. This has, in my own experience, been specifically to do with leaders but I believe it applies generally. Where the Lord sees harmful attitudes prevailing that are not being dealt with by us, it is, to use a modern phrase, as if He pulls the rug out from under our complacency. A crisis arises, which is often caused by our lack of grace and wisdom which, in turn, results when He lifts off His hand of provision and we find ourselves saying or doing things in line with the wrong attitude that previously we would not have said or done. (Yes, those two sentences do take some reading, but make sure you take them in). Now this is so significant in this whole subject of redemption, that we will return to it later in the series, but we do need to understand it and take it in if we are to catch the full import of what is going on.  For David it is an issue of pride and it is that which initially means he insists on getting his way contrary to the counsel of his advisors (see 2 Sam 24:3,4 & 1 Chron 21:3,4)

God or Satan? The third difficulty is that 2 Sam 24:1 says God incited David while 1 Chron 21:1 says Satan incited David. So what is the truth? Well, another word for ‘incited’ here might be ‘tempted’ because David is tempted into an action that is wrong, that we shall shortly consider. The apostle James teaches us, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (Jas 1:13,14) The ‘evil desire’ in this case is pride. We see a similar thing in the case of Cain who we have previously considered: So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7) Cain had a wrong attitude (self-centred jealousy and possibly pride) and that ‘evil desire’, to use James’ words, was just waiting to ‘entice’ him into further bad actions, which he gave way to. So we see a two-sided coin here. On one side we see the wrong attitude that we tolerate, perhaps because it ‘feels good’, while on the other side that same attitude becomes the cause of our downfall.

But God or Satan? Yes, we haven’t fully answered the questions above have we. We’ve turned the focus on David or us, and seen that a wrong prevailing attitude provides the opportunity for temptation to come and cause downfall, but who brought it, God or Satan? Well, James said that God doesn’t tempt anyone so what is the truth here?  To see the truth we have to go to what is thought to be one of the oldest books in the Bible, that of Job. In chapters 2 & 3 we see the Lord wanting to test Job and so He draws Satan’s attention to him and allows Satan to provoke others into action against him. The teaching of the Bible is that God uses Satan for a variety of purposes.

God’s Use of Satan: As a quick summary we may suggest the following. God uses Satan:

  1. a) To reveal men’s hearts (here in 1 Chron 21:1, David’s heart is revealed),
  2. b) To bring judgement on unbelievers (Rev 9:11 as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name means “Destroyer”),
  3. c) To bring discipline to believers (1 Cor 5:5 enabling Satan to come humble and bring repentance)
  4. d) To subjugate unbelievers (1 Jn 5:19b The whole unbelieving world is under the control of the evil one)
  5. e) To maintain humility in our lives (2 Cor 12:7 to keep Paul from getting proud),
  6. f) To develop faith & righteousness in our lives (1 Pet 1:7 Trials are testings and testings reveal our faith, 1 Pet 5:8,9 – we learn to resist),
  7. g) To bring about trials whereby we can be rewarded, blessed & changed (Jas 1:12  we patiently endure testing – testing develops us and God blesses through it),
  8. h) To teach us how to fight (Judges 3:2 to teach warfare),
  9. i) To demonstrate God’s power over the enemy (Eph 3:10 wisdom of God should be made  known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms).

God’s Sovereign Control: Whether through Satan or through His own direct words, the Lord is seen throughout Scripture as the One who provokes or stands against and reveals unrighteousness, i.e. it is part of His redeeming activity. You see it in a variety of ways in the following references: Ex 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1,20,27, 11:10, 14:4, Josh 11:20, 1 Kings 22:22,23, Job 1:12, 2:10, Ezek 3:20, 14:9, Acts 4:28. Again and again these things lead on to His bringing judgment, either corrective and disciplinary, or terminal and final. These are the things behind our present accounts but as you will guess, we have only just started this study of this particular incident, so we will continue it tomorrow.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, deliver us from the evil one this day. Convict me by your Spirit is that is what is needed.

7. A Murdering Deliverer

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 7. A Murdering Deliverer

Ex 2:11,12   after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand

 Moses’ Fame: Moses’ name features quite often in the Gospels, often by Jesus and sometimes by the Jews: “Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from,” (Jn 9:28, 29) and as the one who brought the Law, he was held in high esteem, and yet when we look at the big picture, yes, he did do staggeringly well as the Shepherd of Israel, but he also had blots on his name that puts him well and truly in our human courtyard. A failure redeemed by God.

Moses Rise & Downfall: His story starts as a baby rescued by the wisdom of his mother and raised in the court of Pharaoh (Ex 2:1-10) He lived as a prince of Egypt for forty years with all that royal privilege, but at forty he visited his people who were slaves living in the northern part of Egypt and there he killed (murdered) an Egyptian slave-guard (Ex 2:11,12). This became known and so he had to flee from Egypt and went north into the Arabian Peninsula and kept going, past areas controlled by the Egyptians, until he came to the area of Sinai and then Midian where he was accepted in and became a shepherd – for forty years! (Ex 2:13-22)

Chosen: Now they were forty years of silence until the Lord broke into that silence with an interview on Mount Sinai at the famous burning bush. (Ex 3,4) So here we have this failure, this discredited Prince of Egypt who has now been looking after sheep in the desert for forty years and what do we find the Lord saying? “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt,” (Ex 3:10) and the whole incredible story of the Exodus rolls out.

Questions? Hold on, doesn’t the Bible teach us that God is holy, that God judges unrighteousness and isn’t murder (or was it manslaughter?) unrighteous, so if God wants Israel delivered out of Egypt isn’t there a more fitting candidate?  Does time obliterate our failures?  No, we are still failures, but time and circumstances certainly can have a purifying effect.  As a prince of Egypt Moses would have had complete self-confidence for, after all, he was royalty, adopted maybe but still royalty. But when we come to Ex 3 & 4 and his conversation with the Lord, self-confidence is the last thing he has. In fact we find most of the two chapters are him trying to explain why God has got it wrong and he’s not up to the job!  But isn’t this the second time God seems to be turning a blind eye to murder (Cain was the first)?

A Conclusion: Now here is a staggering conclusion and it is staggering because it challenges everything of all of our preconceived and incomplete ideas. It is that our behaviour – our bad behaviour – isn’t the big issue with God, as bad as that behaviour may be. For the sake of running the country and maintaining an orderly community, yes, the death penalty came in the Law (e.g. Ex 21:12,14) and yet the principle had been laid down a lot earlier: from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” (Gen 9:6) So how did Moses ‘get away with it’? We only produce a tentative answer. As we have noted above, murder within society, to maintain order, received supreme censure but Moses killing a slaver was not in the same category. Yes, guilty, without doubt, but on an ethical sliding scale is there any one sin worse than another, except in terms of the effect it has in the individual and in society. We now know that all sins – murder included are covered by Jesus’ work on the Cross.

Consequences: So God may hold back the death penalty but that does not mean there will not be other consequences as other stories in the Bible will show us. The consequence of Moses’ action was that he was banished, we might say, to forty years of isolation in the desert. It was a penalty that would completely change him. The passing of time does not excuse the sin, but it may certainly bring transformation and that, clearly in some situations, is what God knows can happen and is looking for.

The next forty years: As it turns out, the time confronting Pharaoh was possibly not the worst time in Moses’ life. The story runs that Moses ends up having to look after Israel for forty years in the wilderness while they live out their judgment from God for their disobedience in refusing to enter the Promised Land, with everyone over the age of twenty eventually dying off. I cannot imagine the thoughts that went through Moses sanctified mind throughout that period. Have I failed in getting these people into the Land? Should I have gone about it in another way? Who is the next one to die this week, this month, this year? How long will it be before they are all gone?  Why me? In this, perhaps, a punishment that today we might call, ‘community service’, working for the community to satisfy justice.

And yet the account seems to suggest that Moses often met with the Lord at the Tent of Meeting set up outside the camp or in the Tabernacle set up in the centre of the camp, and no doubt that continual, amazing experience overrode regrets about the past and present. Some suggest that the Pentateuch was compiled by Moses and if that is right, it would have been in this time, as he put together the stories passed down through their ancestors, illuminated by revelation in the Lord’s presence throughout that forty-year time. It was clearly a life-changing time for this man of God.

Further failure: But then there was the time when the burden of Israel seemed to be too much for him when, yet again, they grumbled for lack of water. Once before the Lord had miraculously provided water (Ex 17:1-6). Now Moses, this man who is to represent God faithfully to this people, blows it: Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Num 20:10) True but not a right spirit, and for that, “the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Num 20:12) Both Aaron and Moses die before the people enter the land. A severe judgment? No, there was a lesson that Israel would remember, and Moses was 120 after all; it was time to go home.

So, lessons? God knows everything, and especially what He can achieve through those He calls. Does every sin call for punishment? Yes it does, and Jesus has taken it. Is that the end? No, there are consequences but even in those the Lord works to change us more and more to be like Jesus.  While our hearts are inclined towards Him, as weak as they may be, He never gives up on us. An unfinished work today? Yes. But what about tomorrow? That’s a new day, new challenges, new circumstances, new opportunities, and new changes (in me). Wow!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, thank you that Jesus died for my sins, my failures, my shortcomings so that the way is still open for you to continue to work in my life to bring to fruition the plans you have on your heart for me.

5. A Scheming Patriarch

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 5. A Scheming Patriarch

Gen 25:25,26   The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob

 Recap: We are observing God’s redemptive plans and actions as we see them being worked out in the lives of people in the Bible. We saw how He related to Cain and despite Cain committing murder, set him on a redemptive course where he had opportunity after opportunity to be changed while under the Lord’s protection. Then we saw Abraham called to follow, but initially getting it wrong; yet in the long-term a transformed believer. Amazing. But that is redemption.

Jacob the crook: Yes, that is what Jacob was at heart. At the moment of birth he was clutching at his older brother’s heel as if to say, “I’m not letting you get ahead of me,” and thus he was named Jacob. (A note in your Bible probably says, “Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he deceives.”) Thus he was branded, ‘deceiver’. He lived up to his name by first of all by playing on his brother’s weakness and stealing his birth right (see Gen 25:29-34) and then conniving to steal his brother’s blessing (see Gen 27). Later, when he was living with his uncle Laban, we see him scheming to get more flocks from his uncle (Gen 30:30-43).

Jacob and God: Now if those were the ways Jacob sought to overcome people, how about his attitude towards God? Well on his travelling to his uncle he has a dream after which we find, Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.” (Gen 28:20-22) There is almost a bartering aspect to this; note the words in bold. Later at the end of his time with Laban we find, “Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Gen 31:3) As he explains to his two wives, the daughters of Laban, he reveals how he had had a dream from God that enabled him to be prosperous (see Gen 31:4-9). He is beginning to speak ‘God-talk’. (see also 31:42) On his journey home he hears Esau is coming and in fear he prays (see Gen 32:9-12). He is slowly becoming godly but there is still a heart to be fully changed, and so we come to the crisis point of his life when he wrestles with God through the night and the Lord eventually makes him submit (see Gen 32:24-32). He is a changed man.

The Big Picture: Now here is the big question: how could God possibly go with a crook, a schemer, a deceiver? Well it’s all to do with the big picture, the long-term plan of God who looks upon us and sees what He can achieve with us. Dare we go with Jeremiah to whom the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;” (Jer 1:5). Dare we take hold of the apostle Paul’s words, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will,” (Eph 1:4,5) and, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11,12) These are all words about God who knows before it happens in time-space history how it will all work out. He knows what you can become. He knew there would come a point of time when you would surrender to Him. He knew how you would fit into His plans to bless the world.

And Jacob? Right from the outset the Lord knew how it would all work out when He said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”  (Gen 25:23) He knew Esau would be casual about his birth right and He knew Jacob would rise up and become prosperous and He knew that Jacob, the twister, would become Jacob the man of God. How can I say that? We have already seen some of the signs that Jacob was changing and turning towards God as the Lord drew him and then wrestled with him but see Jacob the Patriarch prophesying over his sons near the end of his life; this is a man of God! (see Gen 49)

More ‘big picture’: Malachi caught something of this when the Lord declared through him, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” (Mal 1:2,3) Isn’t that incredible. God loved the way the twister changed – and He knew he would change – and He hated the way Esau was so self-centred that he despised his birth right, despised his place in the family chosen by God. The apostle Paul also picked up on this, “in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:  not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom 9:10-13) God’s ‘election’ comes from God’s foreknowledge. He knows who will respond to Him, He knows who today will respond to Christ, even before we do, and as such we are part of the redeemed family of God. It’s not because of any good things we do, it is because God called, and we responded and believed. We have seen it in Jacob and it is how it happened with us as we responded to the good news of Christ.

Lessons? I think the key one – next to rejoicing in our own wonderful salvation – is in respect of how we view other people. I always remember a teacher laughingly say, “Be careful how you look down on that young person, next year he may be an apostle!” The truth is we don’t know how we are each going to work out with God. You may look at a child of yours – possibly a prodigal – and despair. Don’t despair, pray. Who knows what God has in store for them. They may appear a Jacob at the moment but keep on praying and you may be one of God’s keys to them becoming a man or woman of God before the end, just like Jacob. Let his story impact you and change how you think about the years to come.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, lift my eyes above the mundane present, to catch something of the wonder of your divine working, that looks and sees and plans and works, with whoever you see will respond (today or next month) to redeem them from the mundane present, to perhaps become a man or woman of God – my family, those at church, those around me in life.

4. Young Believer Abram

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 4. Young Believer Abram

Gen 12:10-13   Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 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

 Our goals: We are, may I repeat, considering the lives of a variety of people in the Bible as we explore God’s intentions to ‘redeem’ us. Inevitably, but I hope not surprisingly, they are episodes that reveal the poor side of humanity but also the grace and mercy of God.  Redemption, we have said, is all about God working to bring us back from a bad place into a good place, and when we see this in operation and consider how it might work today, I believe it will possibly change how we think about one another in the church, especially those who don’t live up to our high expectations.

Abram: We move on to consider something of the life of this man who the Jews consider the father of their nation, a man we consider as the father of faith. In many ways he is a most remarkable man, somehow hearing God back in his home, Ur, leaving there and travelling roughly a thousand miles to Canaan, purely on God’s say-so. Yet there are three episodes in his life that might leave an intelligent person to cry out, “God, how could you let him do that,” or “I thought he was supposed to be the chief example of faith. Where is it here?” Now we are not out to do character assassination, but it is important that we face these things in our heroes.

Situation 1: He hasn’t been in Canaan very long when a famine hits the land and so hearing it is not in the south, he travels down to Egypt. Next, we read, “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.”  (Gen 12:11-13) What he is about to do is well thought out, but I like how the notes in one modern Bible describe what is about to happen as his “morally dubious actions”. The result is that he obviously goes too near the seat of power for Pharaoh’s officials see her and “she was taken into his palace,” (v.15) and you may guess what happened to her there. Now if such a similar thing happened today there would rightly be an uproar. This is sexual abuse of the worst kind. It took the Lord to intervene for the situation to be sorted. Not a good start for this ‘man of faith’, we might say!

Situation 2: A while later (ten years) we find, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. (Gen 16:1-4) So here we have this man who has been told a number of times by God (Gen 12:2,7, 15:4,5,13-16) that He will make him into a nation, now listening to the wisdom of his wife which, in any other context, might have been wisdom but here was unbelief. The result was Ishmael and the Arab nations that have been a thorn in the side of Israel ever since. No so good, man of faith!

Situation 3: Time passes, a lot happens and then we find, “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.” (Gen 20:21,2) What???? There is a sense of deja-vu about this. This is a repeat of the first situation. Now what makes this doubly difficult is that this is the third time a difficulty has arisen and you might have thought Abraham might have learnt by now that he could trust the Lord’s protection. Even more Abraham is a rich and therefore powerful man. The result of the first debacle was amazingly, by the hand of Pharaoh, “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels,” (Gen 12:16) and we later read, “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” (Gen 13:2)

More blessing: The Lord intervenes yet again and so, “Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.” To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” (Gen 20:14-16) Oh my goodness! Abraham can’t go wrong – even when he gets it wrong!!!!

Questions & Answers: No wonder that the modern Bible version I referred to before, in its notes at the beginning of the first situation, states “The events described in this section raise many questions that go unanswered.” Do these episodes teach us that we can get away with any misdemeanour and God will just smile on it and bless us? How does faith interact with unbelief in all this? Why does God let him get away with this? Some tentative answers.

Answer 1 – Long Term Plan: Hold in the back of your mind that God works on the long-term plan; He looks to what He can achieve with his man by the end of his life. This is about redeeming us from being messed up faithless pagans (Abram and us) and changing us into faith-filled, mature believers who are a light to the world. Very quickly let’s note, Abraham excelled in faith in the episode of apparently sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22), he becomes a man who treats with kings and army commanders (Gen 21:22-32, 23:3-20), and he appreciates his birth right and makes careful preparation to get the right wife for his son, not from among the local pagans (Gen 24). An amazing man.

Answer 2 – Faith in the midst of unbelief: You may not have been able to accept it yet, but we are ultimately, even after our faith commitment that saved us, so often people who struggle with unbelief (watch the disciples with Jesus) and faith breaks through as flashes of light, occasionally! God understands that spiritual growth takes time. He doesn’t want you and me to keep on tripping over our feet, but He doesn’t give up on us when we do. He is constantly working to change our feet of clay into feet of flesh and spirit.

And so? a) remember you are still “a work in progress”, and b) those around you are the same! Be there for one another, despite the stumbles, because God is!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I take this on board: I am indeed “a work in progress” and thank you that you love me like this and are working with me in the long-term to make me something more than I am at present. Help me to see those around me in the same light.

3. The Correction of Cain

PART TW0: Lessons through People

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 3. The Correction of Cain

Gen 4:11,12   Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

 A Strange Story: I think I often say that I am sure we frequently just scan our Bible reading and fail to think about what we have just read.  The story about Cain is strange on a number of levels and perhaps not easy to understand in its outcome.  The story is often taught so we may be familiar with the basics of it. Two sons of Eve, Cain and Abel. Although God has shut them out of the Garden they nevertheless bring offerings to Him, presumably on the teaching of their parents. Abel’s offering appears whole-hearted, Cain’s half-hearted, and as a result God was blessed with Abel’s but not Cain’s.  This upsets Cain, but God challenges him over it and warns him against giving way to a bad attitude that might take him into doing something bad. Cain pays little attention to this warning and kills Abel. We have the Bible’s first murder.

Integrity of the Record: If we may pause for a moment, this is one of those instances that gives me confidence that the Bible is inspired by God. If you think about this, if this was merely of human origin, the writer would have given a different outcome but instead we have an outcome that raises questions, certainly at first sight anyway, questions about God as a Judge. Why do I say that? Well, later on in the Law, the application is ‘an eye for an eye’ etc. and murderers forfeit their lives. But what do we have here?

The Judgment on Cain: All we have, as we see in our verses above is a ‘curse’, that means that Cain will no longer be able to farm the land and all he can do is wander the world, presumably looking to work for others. This upsets him: “Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (v.14) He sees being sent away as being sent away from God’s presence, which is interesting in that mankind has been excluded from the most intimate encounter with God in the Garden as we saw previously. The follow on from that, he feels, is that he will be vulnerable, and others could kill him.

God’s Protection: But it is not going to work like that: “But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (v.15,16) Now this is the outcome I find strange.

The depth of Cain’s Guilt: Not only have we seen Cain kill his brother, but it clearly is seen as premeditated: “Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” (v.8) i.e. he had in mind what he intended to do, which makes it murder and not manslaughter (an accident). Moreover when God banishes him, he shows no remorse but simply complains, as we saw above. In my eyes, he should be put to death, so what am I missing? I find I empathize with the idea that the Lord spoke out: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.(v.10) i.e. justice cries out against you. It is the cry of the martyrs in Rev 6:10, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Justice demands wrong-doers be confronted and dealt with. We hear it in the child appealing against his brother or sister to their mother, “It’s not fair!” and we feel it when one close to us his harmed by a criminal.

So why? So why does God NOT condemn Cain to death? We are not told, so we must speculate along with all other commentators. First, we may suggest that, as this is the first death after the expulsion from the Garden, it may be that God is making a point for the rest of history, not that we can get away with sin, but that He looks for a way out for us that is a way of grace, a way for redemption to deliver us into something better. Second, the way for Cain gave him space to come to his senses and to repentance, as he wandered the earth. We aren’t told that he ever did, but the opportunity was there. Third, he traveled with an awareness of the grace of God over him for the rest of his life, reminding him of the possibilities open to him that were there because God had declared protection for him; he only lived because of that protection.

And more? In verses 13 and 14 where Cain protests, “My punishment is more than I can bear,” commentators note that the Hebrew could be construed as in the Septuagint, “my sin is too great for forgiveness,” but reject that as not being supported by the text. Have our translators opted for the easy path? Did, in fact, Cain realise something of the awfulness of what he had done, making the judgment of God here even more amazing? If they had opted for that rendering, they would have steered us more clearly towards thinking about this incredible act of grace, which to the legalistic mind makes little sense.

 Jesus Parable: We find this same struggling with God’s grace (that looks for redemption – and the rest of this series is about how God takes sinners and makes something more of them!) in Jesus parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20). There the owner (God) employed men at intervals throughout the day, but when accounting came, paid them all the same. Those who were employed at the beginning of the day complained but the point was that the owner didn’t have to employ any of them, and so when he did it was an act of grace.

God’s End Goal: You can’t measure grace and so wherever we come across God’s redemption – and we will see it with many people and in many different forms – it is always a free gift. We dare not demand justice for our lives for that would be too painful, the condemnation would be too great; instead we gratefully accept the mercy of God that comes in the form of His grace – forgiveness AND blessing.

Transformation is the end goal and in the Christian life we are being changed, one degree at a time, into the likeness of Jesus: “And we all, …. are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) He doesn’t just forgive on the basis of the Cross, He blesses us with a new life, a new identity and new power.

Cain at the end: The story of Cain in Genesis ends in a surprising way: “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.  Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.” (Gen 4:16,17) Wow! Cain settled, he had a wife and children and builds a community (a city). If that isn’t a turn up for the book, what is? Cain had the opportunity to change and he clearly took it.  We, too, have the opportunity to change as we live out the years the Lord gives to us. May we not squander them.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I understand that you deal with each one of us uniquely but whatever you do in respect of us it is for good, to redeem us from what is not good in our lives to something better. Help me value my days and look for your good in them.