21. Easy Believers?

Short Meditations in John 7:  21.  Easy Believers?

Jn 7:21  Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed.

I said back in v.19 that Jesus is unpredictable. We think we know where he’s going or what he’s saying, but then he suddenly seems to change direction and say something completely different. Back in v.19 he said, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”  And now he turns back to the subject of doing miracles and their response to what he had done, which appears to be exactly opposite. What is going on?

Well, I think there are two things here. The first is a matter of contrast. On one hand the Jews said one thing about themselves but did something different, and on the other hand they say bad things about Jesus and are yet amazed at what he was doing. They said they were followers of Moses – but didn’t follow the law- and then they said Jesus was bad yet had to acknowledge the miracles he did.

The second thing is seeing the flow of what had happened. Yes Jesus had performed healings in Jerusalem, e.g. “while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name,” (2:23, also 4:45) but in fact it was the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda on a sabbath which had angered the Jews and set them plotting against him: “because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him,” (5:16) but then, “In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (17,18) That was what had really triggered it off.

So we have this almost funny situation where Jesus asked the question, “why are you trying to kill me,” and of course the answer is, “Because you claim to be God,” and yet they refuse to actually be honest and speak that out because behind it is the truth of the works that Jesus has been doing which surely point to the truth of his identity.  I used the word ingenuous in the previous study about Jesus  and it applies here also. It means appearing completely innocent of guile and yet there is this underlying sense that Jesus is delightfully herding them back towards that truth which they do not want to verbalize. You really don’t want to spar verbally with the Son of God!

Do we find Jesus herding us towards the truth about who we are, about our need of him, of about who he truly is? He is constantly working to get us to face the truth.

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12. God’s Holy Mountain

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  12. God’s Holy Mountain

Psa 3:4    he answers me from his holy mountain.

God’s Presence: Again, how casually I have sped over these words with so little thought, and yet I suspect (is He telling me?) that here there are such profound truths to be mined as we meditate. Before we move on in this psalm, I believe there is something of significance that we have passed by without comment here in verse 4: “he answers me from his holy mountain”. What is that ‘holy mountain’?

Zion: Well, back in Psa 2 we read, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psa 2:6) Further back in 2 Sam 5:7 we read, “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.” That is the first reference to ‘Zion’ and it clearly meant Jerusalem. It had long been known as Jerusalem, occupied by the Jebusites who Israel had failed to overthrow initially (Judg 1:21), and it had not been taken until David arrived in power, when he re-established it as his base and subsequently the capital of Israel. When the ark was brought there, and later in Solomon’s reign the temple built, and filled with God’s presence (1 Kings 8:10,11), it became known as the ‘holy city’: “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” (Isa 52:1)

Jerusalem: Jerusalem is described as “set high in the hills of Judah” (New Bible Dictionary) and one Internet site describes Jerusalem as follows: “Jerusalem’s seven hills are Mount Scopus, Mount Olivet and the Mount of Corruption (all three are peaks in a mountain ridge that lies east of the old city), Mount Ophel, the original Mount Zion, the New Mount Zion and the hill on which the Antonia Fortress was built.” When a prophet or psalmist refers to the ‘mountain of the Lord’ or ‘his holy mountain’ it can either mean Jerusalem generally or the hill or mountain on which the Temple was eventually built.

As David writes pre-the Temple, it is more likely to mean Jerusalem at large, Jerusalem the whole city. The designation ‘mountain’ may refer to the fact that all of the ‘hills’ of the Jerusalem area are well over 2000 feet above sea level, or it may simply be creating spiritual significance of a place of ascent on which God resides. A study of ‘mountains’ in the Old Testament must take us first to Moriah: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen 22:2) Amazingly this was Jerusalem where Solomon eventually built the temple (2 Chron 3:1) equated today, it is said, with the vicinity of Calvary. What a symbolic picture. The second mountain that stands out is Sinai where God met with Israel during the Exodus (See Ex 19-). The imagery that goes with that encounter suggests inaccessibility except by divine permission. So often when people went there, the record says they went up to Jerusalem, that same picture of ascending to meet with God that Moses showed us. Thus Jerusalem becomes the place of encounter with the inaccessible God and the place of god’s offering of His own Son to save the world.

Tent of Meeting: God’s instructions to build a Tabernacle (Ex 25-27) appear to be His early means of bringing limited access to Himself by His people. It was also referred to as ‘the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21 etc.): Set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, on the first day of the first month. Place the ark of the covenant law in it and shield the ark with the curtain.” (Ex 40:2,3) and it continued in existence until Solomon replaced it with the Temple (see 1 Kings 8). However in the time of Eli and Samuel, after the debacle with the Philistines, the ark (and presumably the Tent) stayed at Kiriath Jearim (1 Sam 7:1,2) until twenty years later David took it to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6) where it was placed inside “the tent that David had pitched for it.” (1 Chron 16:1), but this was clearly different from the Tabernacle still pitched at Gibeon (1 Chron 16:39) The ‘tent’ was clearly simply the home or location for the ‘ark of the covenant’ that was seen to be the place where the presence of God resided on earth. As we noted above, both ark and tent of meeting (as this tent now clearly became) were taken to the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8:1-4)

God’s Dwelling Place? The ark in the Tabernacle? The ark in the Temple? The ark disappeared in history, but the Temple remained until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it during the Exile but until then the Temple (and the ark) had been the focus or ‘dwelling place’ of God on earth. Why is that so significant? Because it was there by God’s instructions, and it was a place of focus on God, a place where people could go to worship God (even though they could not encounter His presence hidden in the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies). So when David prays and get answers, they come from the God who has revealed Himself and positioned Himself in the midst of Israel.

And Today? The writer to the Hebrews conveys something quite amazing when he speaks to us: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire …. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb 12:18,22) For us, Mount Zion is not just a mountain but a city and it is in heaven. At the end of his amazing visions recorded in the book of Revelation, John records, “One of the seven angels…. said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev 21:9,10) In the final words that follow it is clear that this heavenly city comes down to the newly recreated earth and is accessible to all, and Father and Son are in the midst of it. The mountain where God had been inaccessible, the place where the Godhead dwells, has finally come to be in the midst of redeemed mankind. In heaven or on the new earth, the dwelling place of God is accessible to redeemed mankind, to the people of God.

A Poignant Psalm: For David it was the place towards which he uttered his prayers, which makes this psalm, headed by “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom”, so poignant. Until then he had focused on God in Jerusalem but now he was on the run out of and away from Jerusalem and so his focus became more ‘long distance’ if we may put it like that. Yet there is another significant truth: even though David may not have close access to the Tent in Jerusalem, the Lord is still there; He has not departed Jerusalem, it is still HIS city and therefore there is a sense when David utters these words, they come with an underlying assurance that he is still in God’s hands, this is all happening because God is working out His disciplinary will for David and He, the Lord, is still the same and will still be there in Jerusalem for David to call to, and will still be there should the Lord allow him to return. God IS there – for us in heaven and for us by His Spirit, incredibly, indwelling us – and so it doesn’t matter what the earthly circumstances appear to be showing, in respect of the Lord, nothing has changed! He is there and He is there for us and He is there available to us because He has made it so! Hallelujah!

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.

46. Believing Moses

Short Meditations in John 5:  46. Believing Moses

Jn 5:46  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

Jesus draws this conversation to an end with a challenge to these religious Jews in respect of Moses. We have already considered the challenge that they did not obey the Law of Moses and thus needed a Saviour (implied) but now the challenge becomes more personal. We did briefly refer to this before but now we need to note what Moses had written: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.” (Deut 28:18)

Over the years the scholars searched the Old Testament scrolls finding these references to a ‘Coming One’, a Messiah who would come from God to deliver His people, an ‘anointed one’. More often those references were found in the Prophets, but of course Moses was also seen as a prophet and this verse (which is repeated a short while later) became part of that collection of prophecies in respect of the ‘Coming One’.

So why, we might ask, did Jesus not give a full teaching of the many prophecies from the Old Testament, as we now call it, and show that they clearly spoke about him when you considered the things he did? The answer is that Jesus almost went out of his way NOT to be ultra-clear about who he was and only spoke about himself very clearly on rare occasions. Why, again we might ask? Jesus knew that belief in him was a heart issue (and we have considered that previously) and therefore it was only seekers who would find him and realise who he truly was.

However, what we do also find about Jesus in the Gospels is that he was not averse to dropping hints for those who might be looking. Much of his teaching about himself was somewhat oblique – such as the ‘I am’ sayings of John’s Gospel, and in particular throughout the Gospels, his teaching using parables.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” he replied, Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them,” and then went on, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mt 13:10-12) i.e. those who remain close to Jesus will get answers, and once they realise who he is, more will be given them.

So the reference to Moses is one of these ‘nudges’, these hints, given for the seeker but remaining an obscurity for those who criticised him and who were against him.

 

45. Moses’ Accusation

Short Meditations in John 5:  45. Moses’ Accusation

Jn 5:45  “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.

People often seem to get very defensive when it comes to talking about God because they seem to think He is always pointing a finger at them, pointing out their failures, their misdemeanors, their mistakes and so on, but that is far from the truth. Jesus pointed this out to his Jewish audience, basically saying, “I don’t need to do that, you condemn yourselves.” There are a number of things in life that reveal to us the sort of people we are.

First of all, there is that thing we call ‘conscience’, that inner voice that nudges and prods and points out to us when we are getting it wrong. You’ve only got to be an astute people watcher to realise that many people struggle with guilt and seek to use a variety of mechanisms to cover it up. Oh, yes, they don’t need telling.

Many years ago I had an elderly friend who was arguing against the Gospel and this went on for several months until he eventually argued himself into a corner and he gave himself to Christ. Later on he complained to me, “You never told me I should stop smoking in all of our discussions!” I laughed and replied, “Of course not, it was obvious you knew you wanted to give up, you knew it was bad for you; you didn’t need me to tell you.” (A quick lesson: so often you don’t need to try to condemn your non-Christian friends, they are doing a good job of it already; they need telling how to get out of failure.)

Second, there is the way that others respond to us. Consider the miserable, grumpy old lady who complains that no one cares about her and she has no friends. One day she might wake up to the fact that she feels alone because her complaints and grumpiness drive people away!

Then, of course for us who are Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who convicts us when we have spoken out of turn and unkindly or done something we should not have done.

For the Jews, in Jesus’ day’ and even today, they had the books of Moses, containing the Law. As the apostle Paul said to the Jewish contingent in Rome, Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will …You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” (Rom 2:17,18,23)

Put aside any references in the Pentateuch to a coming prophet of the stature of Moses, the Law was there to act as a school-teacher (Gal 3:24 as one version puts it), to point out the life that God wants us to live and so, consequently it also reveals our sinfulness, our failures. As Jesus said to those leaders accusing a woman of adultery, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (Jn 8:7) No one picked up a stone and instead they all just quietly slipped away.

11. “It will be all right” Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 11. “It will be all right” Expectations 

Ex 32:1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Trouble at Sinai: The story of Israel and the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai is one I would much rather avoid for it is horrifying on so many levels, but it is the natural follow-on to the thoughts we had about Pharaoh and how the godless human race behaves. Let’s cover the details quickly:

  • Moses goes up the mountain to receive more law from God and stays there forty days (Ex 24:18).
  • Some of the people down below give up waiting for Moses and demand that Aaron make ‘gods’ for them to follow (our verse above)
  • So Aaron made a golden calf (Ex 32:2-6a) and they offered sacrifices before it.
  • Then they held a celebration party (32:6b)
  • Moses comes down, sees the revelry and calls on the Levites to execute all the revellers. Three thousand died. (Ex 32:19-28)

Why so Bizarre:  There is a lot more to the story but those are the basics. Left to themselves for forty days without leadership, and Israel turn to idolatry. Now what is so incredible about all this is that Israel had seen the Lord at work:

  • Through the ten plagues in Egypt (Ex 5-12)
  • Killing Pharaoh and his army (Ex 14)
  • Providing miraculously for them on the way to Sinai (Ex 16,17)
  • With sights and sounds at Sinai (Ex 19,20)
  • With the revelation of Himself to their leaders who saw Him (Ex 24:9-11)

Why? Why? Why?  So how could it possibly be that within a very short while, some of the people (the fact that only 3000 were killed out of a population of possibly nearly 2 million suggests it was only a relatively small number of the whole who did this) seem to forget all they have seen, and they turn to idolatry like other peoples (and they had covenanted to go with God Ex 24:7) and act so badly? For an answer we have to answer, as we did in the previous study, the deceitful human heart.

Human Failings: How is this all about expectations? Well let’s try and think of reasons that people act like this – and I suggest we all do in a greater or lesser measure. Oh yes we do; I see it in my own responses and I see it in other people. One month we can be at a great Christian convention committing ourselves body and soul to the Lord, and a month later we are complacent and indifferent and when calls come for people to attend the prayer meeting, the Bible Study, or join an outreach team, we are ‘too busy’ or ‘too tired’. Sadly, for some of us, it will get worse. We will do things – and let’s not bother to list them – that we know are plain sinful, whether (OK I will list some) watching pornography, making designs on another man’s wife or another woman’s husband, oh so accidentally it came about! Or we cut corners at work, cheat in exams, falsify accounts, oh the list goes on and on. This is what human beings do – even Christians!!!! How can we do it?  It’s all about expectations. Let me explain.

Poor Memories: Having said that, we must dispose of one truth that isn’t about expectations, I believe, and it is the fact of our poor memories and tendency to live for the present. Isn’t this why Jesus said of the communion service, “do this in remembrance of me”, because he knew we have the tendency to so easily forget. There are a number of things in the Old Testament as well, where God got Israel to do things that would act as a reminder. It is probably in the realm of sex that ‘immediacy’ kicks in most strongly. We know that the forbidden fruit, even just this one time, will have consequences that will develop and wreck our lives, but we push on nevertheless and our lives are never the same again.

Deceived Thinking: But I think the expectation issue in all of these things above, is summed up by the philosophy that Satan got Eve to subscribe to – “It will be all right.” So we see whatever it is in front of us and he whispers, “It will be all right,” and linked with that, “God won’t do anything, what does He care about this, it’s such a small thing.” But the truth is that it isn’t such a small thing, it’s the start of something which, if He doesn’t step in and act, will multiply and multiply and get right out of control. It is the false and foolish belief that these things DON’T have consequences that releases human beings to do foolish things that run contrary to God’s design.

Israel were supposed to be a light to the rest of the world, revealing the Lord to His world, revealing His ways to the rest of the world. Forgetting the past year and giving way to present desires was foolish and went directly against the very reason God had set Israel free from Egypt and was taking them to their own new land.  They may have thought, “It will be all right, Moses is not here, God isn’t watching, nothing will happen,” but that was deception and we know where that comes from. Moses did return, God was watching and this could not be permitted to continue, and a simple scolding would not achieve that.  Drastic steps were required.

Resisting & Overcoming: How do we counter such things? Overcome evil with good, the Scriptures teach, so how do we do that. We fill our hearts and minds with His word as we meditate on it daily. We pray and seek His face daily. We worship with all our hearts. We give ourselves over to His purposes and declare ourselves available to Him on a daily basis, and we listen for the leading of His Spirit to be a blessing to those around us. And we also remain alert to resist unwise courses of action. We steer clear of temptation and avoid compromising situations as far as it is possible.  If we fail and fall, repentance is the start of the way back and seeking His grace. It’s not the end – but it’s better if we can avoid falling off the rails to start with!

10. Foolish Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 10. Foolish Expectations 

Ex 5:2     Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

Facing Negative Expectations: Expectations are all about ‘anticipated outcomes’. Putting it like that they may be positive or negative anticipations.  For most of the time we are focusing on positive anticipations and later on in the series, when we tighten our focus on ‘hope’, we will consider the Christian’s hope, a ‘confident anticipation built on the promises of God’. In the light of these positive expectations, I hesitate to write this study because in some ways it is so negative, but it is a vitally important lesson in order to understand our whole world, and so we will persevere with it.

Pharaoh v Moses: As we have been working our way through the early chapters of the Bible we come to this terrible story of Pharaoh versus Moses. I recommend you read it in chapters 5 to 14 of Exodus for I will not attempt to cover it all here. Some key points:

  • The Lord had called Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3 & 4)
  • Moses had picked up his brother Aaron and they had told the elders what would happen, and they received it with worship (Ex 4:27-31)
  • Moses had approached Pharaoh this first time and he had responded as our verse above indicates.
  • Moses persisted but Pharaoh simply made the work of the slaves harder (5:3-21)
  • The Lord reiterated His intentions in detail to Moses (6:1-8) and expanded on this after Moses faltered (7:1-5)
  • Moses performs his first mini-miracle-sign but Pharaoh’s magicians simply copy it (7:8-13) and Pharaoh is not impressed.
  • Then comes the first of the ‘plagues’ – blood (7:14-21) Pharaoh is not impressed
  • A week later come frogs (8:1-8), then gnats (8:16-19) then flies (8:20-25) and so on.

Progressive Process: Now what we start to notice as we read these incidents is that initially the magicians copy the first ‘plagues’ and initially Pharaoh rejects them outright, but then comes a long process where he half relents but doesn’t! The plagues get progressively worse and it becomes more and more obvious – because Moses is speaking them out before they happen – that it is God doing this, but Pharaoh continues to try to weasel his way out of it and get his way.

The Sin Factor: These chapters of Exodus, more than any other verses in the Bible, show us the way Sin works in an individual. I have defined ‘Sin’ as self-centered godlessness resulting in unrighteousness. It is that self-centered element that is at the heart of all this and is at the heart of the human condition that leads us then to be godless and then to make a mess of life, living contrary to God’s design for us (unrighteousness).

Self-Centred Expectation: Now we just said that expectations are all about ‘anticipated outcomes’ and when we read through the story involving Pharaoh we see this; he anticipates that the outcome will be that his will, will prevail and (presumably) God and Moses will give up. When you hold this understanding in the face of these ten plagues that are getting gradually worse, you realize the crass folly of this self-centered godlessness. But there it is, and it is in every single human being.

The Mystery of the Human Heart: It may manifest itself in a variety of ways. Like Pharaoh it can be the intense intention to resist God and to deny His will. Alternatively it may be the simple intention to pretend that He is not there and struggle on through life on our own. Now it is a complete mystery why one human being will go to the stupid lengths that Pharaoh went to, while another is completely opened hearted to God, hears Him and responds easily to Him. We speak about the human ‘heart’, not meaning the muscle that pumps blood round the body, but the inner being, the inner intentions or, as one dictionary has struggled to put it, “the central, vital, or main part of a human being, real meaning, essence, core of that being, the center or source of emotions, personality attributes, etc.” The mystery is why one person, e.g. Pharaoh can be ‘hard-hearted’ and others ‘open-hearted’, but it is like that.

Understand People: Understanding this is vital to understanding human experience and understanding the message of the Bible. Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) When we see this in operation within Pharaoh, we can see that it sets the mind on foolish thinking that is echoed all around us: “I will get my way! I will do what I want. I don’t care about God. He has no power over me.” It is the folly of unbelief that tries to pretend there is no God: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1, 53:1) and a footnote in your Bible says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” It isn’t just an intellectual thing, it is a moral thing.

A Need to Resist: I headed this study, ‘Foolish Expectations’ but it could easily have been ‘Deceived Expectations’ or ‘Utterly Unrealistic Expectations’ for that is what these ‘hopes’ or ‘anticipated outcomes’ are that come out of the sinful heart. We recently did a study on Jacob and I have to be honest and say, I catch myself again and again, plotting or planning or scheming to get my own way or prove that I am right, and have to stop and hand it all over to God. When the apostle Paul wrote, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires,” (Rom 6:12) and later, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature,” (Col 3:5) these were commands that recognized that although we have died to sin when we were born again, we find that people, circumstances and Satan constantly challenge us to be self-centered and godless, and we need to make an act of will to reject that approach and purpose not be like that and then to act contrary to that.

You are not immune to it just because you are a Christian. You are different from your non-Christian neighbour because you now have a living relationship with a Saviour and you have been empowered by his Spirit and you have a new goal to work for. So yes, picking up on those last words, we will see later in the series, how our ultimate goal is indeed to act as a motivating force to keeping us on the right track on a daily basis.

So, Us Today: Finally, if we are wise, we will check out ourselves on a regular basis to ensure we have not let the seeds of self-centred godlessness germinate, take root and grow within us, for they lead to unrealistic and foolish expectations. Every time we respond to pride and let it empower our present actions, they lead towards folly and destruction. Every time we let negative thoughts about another settle and grow, we are moving towards self-centred godlessness which is contrary to the Spirit of Christ. It is an ongoing battle, but he is here to help us and works with us to help us overcome. Pharaoh died because he refused to let go his pride and self-centred godlessness and, tragically, that will be the end for multitudes around us who act similarly and refuse to heed the call of God. May that never be you or me.