11. Looking for the Best

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 11. Looking for the Best

Ex 32:10  Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

Recap: In the previous study we moved on from considering some misconceptions to thinking about how we respond to finding sin, either in ourselves or in others, what sort of heart we should have towards others around us who fail to come up to the mark, who stray off God’s path, who blow it, lose contact with the truth, or whatever other way we may soften the word ‘sin’. Today we consider another aspect of being faced with sin, what could come out of it (in one specific way).

The Example of the Golden Calf: Israel have arrived at Mount Sinai, have had an amazing encounter with God, received the Law and committed themselves to following the Lord. And then Moses goes up the mountain again – and stays there. He stays there forty days! i.e. over a month passes and no sign or sound from Moses or God. Israel down on the plain below the mountain are getting bored. Their leader has gone, the memory of hearing God has gone and some of them at least start getting restless. They want some visible sign of leadership, they want some visible sign of God in their midst and so rashly, despite what they have heard from God, they demand that Aaron does something. He is at a loss. He doesn’t know when Moses will be coming back – IF he will ever come back. He doesn’t know how to handle the situation and so concedes to their demands and he makes a calf of gold for them to worship. In retrospect, from our viewpoint, it is crass stupidity, but mankind does this sort of thing in the face of a crisis. It is wrong, it is idolatry but they are grasping at straws, they are not mature in their faith and do something stupid.

God’s Initial Response: The next part demands maturity of response because when Moses hears the sound of revelry down below – and initial wrong so often leads on to further wrong, and they are now indulging in self-centred revelry – God tells him what has happened and declares our starter verse above, that He will destroy them and make a new nation from Moses. So often our response would be ‘cut and run’ give up and go home, call it a day, but not so with God. Don’t see this as God giving up on Israel. He is first of all testing His man, how will he respond to this?

The Heart of a Man of God: Moses argues with God and pleads, don’t waste what you’ve achieved (v.11), don’t let the Egyptians hear about this and laugh at your inability to deal with these people (v.12), remember your big plan that started out with Abraham (v.13), don’t destroy this people (v.12b). And so God ‘relents’ (v.14), He appears to agree with Moses. (There is an accounting for those who instigated this, the revelers, but the vast majority will be saved.)

The Big Lesson: When we come across a fellow believer who has blown it, etc., let’s remember these three things, and remind God of them in prayer – although they are more for our benefit as we slowly comprehend the heart of God:

i) Consider the testimony of this ‘sinner’, what has happened to them before this fall, all that they have achieved, all that God has done previously in and through them. Will this be wasted?

ii) Consider how this will appear to the watching world. Will they just laugh with scorn at Christians who are really, “just the same as me!” and deride God’s name?

iii) Consider the ‘big plan of God’, His desire to redeem the world, to redeem individual ‘sinners’. That plan wasn’t just to sort you out when you first turned to Him, but to continue to keep on sorting you out throughout your entire life. As long as your heart is inclined towards Him, He will continue to work with you when you occasionally stumble and fall. His desire is to pick you up and restore you. And if it is that for you – and it is – then it is also for your sinning friend!

So what is the big lesson here? It is not to see this as an opportunity to write off this other person but an opportunity to restore and redeem them. Jesus didn’t write off

  • the silly people who ran out of wine at their wedding in Jn 2, or
  • obtuse Nicodemus in Jn 3, or
  • the arguing Samaritan woman at the well in Jn 4, or
  • the paralytic who had given up at the Pool of Siloam in Jn 5, or
  • the five thousand who followed him without thought for provisions in Jn 6, or
  • the adulterous woman in Jn 8.

No, in every chapter he redeemed the situation and the people.

And Us?  Will we see failure in those around us, not as a time to exalt in their guilt, but an opportunity to seek the Lord for His wisdom and grace to bring correction, repentance, restoration, healing and redemption, maybe even bringing them into a better place than they had been before. That is the sort of Savior we follow. Let’s not disappoint him with heart responses that are less than his.

9. The Certainty of the Kingdom

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 9. The Certainty of the Kingdom

Ex 3:7-9   I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt….. So I have come down to rescue them ….I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’

Ongoing: The good news is that there was only one Exodus and so the Lord will not be sending you and me to deliver a nation….. or will He? Well not a whole nation perhaps, but who knows what He has on His heart for you and me yet to achieve? In the uncertainties of this world in which we live, as we worry about getting by, perhaps we need to go back to that well known verse, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Mt 6:33) which we might put as, “put seeking God’s will and then doing it first of all, before all things, and then all the rest will fall into place as He provides for you.”  Let’s ponder on this a bit more.

Moses? If you were a friend of God and you were standing beside Him as He spoke to Moses beside the burning bush, I have a feeling you might be feeling ever so slightly exasperated with the Prince of Egypt who is now a shepherd. In fact you might be wondering why the Lord had decided to stop by and talk to this guy. After all, he had squandered an amazing lifestyle in the royal palace in Egypt by suddenly getting the idea that he could be the savior of his own people, Israel. See how that worked out! Well actually it had worked out by him fleeing Egypt and becoming a shepherd – a shepherd!!! an outcast in the desert with only sheep for company –  for forty years! He’s a nobody, so what are we doing here at this burning bush trying to suggest a path ahead that he’s clearly not interested in. In fact it’s much stronger than that, he’s dead set against it! So why is the Lord bothering with him?

Well pause up a moment, will you, remember we’ve said the Lord doesn’t make mistakes? Tack on to that one or two other things we know – the Lord takes the weak and foolish things (people!) to confound the strong and the wise, and He clearly knows people and what He can get them to achieve. So Moses? Well let’s add in a few more things the Lord says in this rather strange two-chapter conversation. I will be with you,” (3:12) and, I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians,” (3:20) and then He gives him two miracles (4:2-8), and He then lays out the plan (4:9), and I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,” (4:12) and then He gives him Aaron his brother to help him (4:14-16) and, finally, He had said his past is gone and will not come back to bite him (4:19). In other words, the Lord covers all the bases, Moses has nothing to worry about. It may be a bit of a rocky ride but the Lord will be there AND He will be doing the stuff – through Moses – so what more is there to worry about?

And Jesus? Put like that it sounds simple doesn’t it, but it still required Moses to step up to the mark and do his side of it all, and that is pretty scary and coming to think about it, stepping out of a boat and walking on water is pretty scary, but with the Lord we can do it – IF he calls us to do it!  And this takes us back to the talk about the kingdom that we are to seek – Jesus’ reign on his Father’s behalf that he spoke about as soon as he started speaking and ministering in Galilee. It was the message of John the Baptist – “John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” (Mt 3:1) and it was Jesus’ message – “Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 4:17) It is also the message of the apostles: the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26)

Establishing the Kingdom: ‘The kingdom’ is all about Jesus’ reigning in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) working to destroy all the things that were NOT there in Eden when the Father first made the world. The last thing is to be death, but before that there is Sin in all its many forms to be dealt with. He deals with that by first of all convicting us by his Spirit so that we repent and die to the old life. The root of sin in us is thus dealt with and the ongoing, indwelling Holy Spirit within us will be working to overcome any resurrection-of-the-old-life attempts by the enemy. And every time we blow it, the Spirit is there, seeking to convict us afresh about that thing so that we may bring it back to the Lord, receive fresh forgiveness and cleansing and the thing be put to death and put under our feet. And so his work in dealing with the things of ‘the old life’ continue as he seeks to destroy them in us and replace them with the fruit of his Spirit. That’s the way he starts to bring about and establish his reign in us.

Expanding the Kingdom: ‘Establishing’ is all about working character into us, Jesus’ character, but while He does that God does not wait around until we are perfect before He can use us. As we saw with Moses, God takes us with our failures and sets us off down the path of service, because He knows that the very progress down that path will help bring about those character changes we referred to above. We get changed as we go, as we do, as we let Him lead us into joining Him in expanding that work of establishing the kingdom in others.

Trying to tie down how that happens is an impossibility because every situation, every moment with God, is unique. The way He used Moses against Pharaoh was one thing, the way He used Joshua to take the Land was another. The way, for instance, He used and worked through Elijah was one thing, the way He used and worked through Elisha, is another. Every person is tailor-made for the situation God puts before them. Every situation ultimately has the same goal – to bring the situation under the rule of Jesus for him to deal with and put to death all the wrongs that came post the Fall – but the way the Lord brings it about will be unique for you and unique for me.

Refocusing:   So here we are thinking through some of the ways this fallen world manifests uncertainty, pondering our part in it all and, in this study, seeing that part in the light of the kingdom. Very often believers find themselves swamped by that uncertainty because they forget (or maybe never learnt) The Certainty that we have been considering here. It isn’t ‘just Jesus’ but Jesus whose goal is utterly set in concrete, to establish and expand the kingdom of God to fulfill the purpose established by the Godhead before the foundation of the world: it is to restore us after the Fall, to redeem us, so that we can enter into a relationship with the Father whereby we can receive all the good He has on His heart for us, be transformed and know the wonder of being His children here on earth as we prepare to enter in more fully to that as we move on from this life to the one in heaven. If you’ve never seen it like that, grab hold of it and never let it go.

And Us – along the way: We’re usually OK with the ‘establishing’ bit but may be a bit fearful about the ‘expanding’ bit. If that is so, remember the things we saw with Moses: the Lord comes with us, never leaves us, is there to guide us and resource us, and provides others alongside us so we are not alone in it (whatever the ‘it’ is) and remember, I used the phrase ‘tailor-made for the situation’ just now. God chose the path He has for you and me knowing that with Him we CAN handle it. There may come times when we don’t feel that and even the great apostle Paul confessed that there were times when he and those with him “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor 1:8) but, remember, when he wrote that he was looking back so that the truth was the Lord had brought him through that and he was still going strong. The Lord never promises that it will always be easy (though it will be sometimes) but that He will be there with us to see us through to the end, i.e. “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)  In the midst of the uncertainties of the world around us, let’s make sure we hold on to this confidence, this certainty. Amen? Amen!

3. God?

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 3. God?

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

Pause Up: We have just spent two studies setting the context for understanding and seeing how these Ten Commandments came into being but before we actually move on to consider the first of the ten commands we need to focus again on these two introductory verses because it is so easy to take words for granted and thus miss the amazing claims being made.

We have already observed the fact that the Bible record here in these verses shows us a God who communicates with us – and if you are a Jew or Christian you take that for granted, but in some other world religions they have gods or idols who stay silent and offer nothing to their adherents. But here in the Biblical record we have a God who made this world and who interacts with this world and speaks to individuals in this world. Before we move on to see God’s description of Himself in these verses, I want us to ponder on just how much revelation about God had been given as we see it in the first two books of the Bible. How, at least from the Bible, did they come to know God, what does the text tell us about Him?

Origins: We perhaps need to ponder on just how the Bible came to be written, how these two books came into being. I am going to take the view that traditional academics and scholars through most of the last few thousand years (excluding the effects of liberal German so-called theologians of the late nineteenth century) and suggest that initially history was passed on by word of mouth. But that is probably only part of the picture. It is thought by traditional scholars that Genesis was written by Moses and was likely to be a combination of that passed on by word of mouth and that communicated to him by the Lord in the Tabernacle over the forty years of Israel’s wanderings in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. It is for this reason that we find the use of LORD in capital letters in Genesis although the proper origin of it doesn’t appear until the third chapter of Exodus, which we’ll consider shortly.

But of course before the word was written down on scrolls by Moses, while it was still in word-of-mouth form, we need to ask what was known of God by the experience of those who had encounters with Him as recorded in Genesis. In the Garden of Eden there seems to be what is called a theophany, God appearing in human form to be able to communicate with Adam and Eve. In the periods following that we just don’t know how God communicated and interacted with the likes of Cain, Noah, etc. and perhaps it is only when we come to a much longer record of His interaction with Abram that we can really start to make some reasonable assumptions about the sort of ‘Being’ we dealing with. Here are some of those:

The Patriarchs: In Genesis. Watching the interaction between God and Abram, (who later is renamed Abraham), Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, I want to suggest we see:

  • A God who is Creator of all things.
  • A God who thus sees and knows and understands everything there is to know about us.
  • A God who has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future.
  • A God who reveals Himself to mankind very gradually.
  • A God who persists with our slowness to understand, yet works to mature us.
  • A God who can intervene in His material world and bring what we call ‘miraculous’ changes.
  • A God who knows the future and plans and purposes through His people to enable them to cope with it.
  • A God who works for the good of mankind and to draw mankind back to Him after the Fall.

Moses: When we come to the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and the life of Moses and the embryonic Israel, I suggest we see the following:

  • A God who is all-powerful and can deal with arrogant despots and superstitious, occult-following nations.
  • A God of revelation who wishes to impart His plans and purposes to those who will listen.
  • A God who planned to bring a unique nation into being to reveal Himself to the world.
  • A God who has designed this world and knows best how mankind can ‘work’ and who works to convey that to us and to present standards to be followed, which if they are not, result in self-destruction.
  • A God who will discipline to bring correction and under dire circumstances will bring judgment on some to save His world for the others.

These latter things in Exodus are, of course, only just starting to become obvious at the time of the giving of the Law. Nevertheless the Lord has already communicated various things about Himself to Moses at the burning bush (see Ex 3)

Origin of LORD: In our starter verses there is no printing mistake in the capitalising of the word LORD when He says, “I am the LORD your God.”  To see why that is like that there you need to go back to Ex 3 where God first contacts Moses and describes Himself. First of all He says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6) In other words, I am the God you have been told about who has had dealings with your patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is a continuity of history even at this stage.

But then, after Moses had asked His name, who he should tell the Israelites had sent him, He went on to say, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14) These things are repeated in the following verses and in your Bible there is a footnote that “the word for LORD (in capital letters) sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14.” Therefore, from then on, when God’s ‘name’ is used it is always in this form and may be taken as “The I AM” or, ‘the eternal one’, if you like. Verse 15 links the earlier v.6 with that later reference in verse 14. God identifies Himself not only as ‘the eternal one’, the one outside history, but also the God of the patriarchs, the God who has had dealings with men. He is the God who works outside of time AND into time-space history. So the ‘name’ from there on, that is printed, ‘LORD’, always conveys this sense – the Eternal One, the I AM, the One who always is.

Back to Abraham: We have just been suggesting that God reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs of what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of the new nation of Israel. As an aside, there are some suggestions that He had already revealed himself to others. Studies of ancient Chinese suggest that they knew of this creator God who had the same characteristics as revealed to Israel.

But back in the Bible, earlier in Genesis, when Abram had just rescued Lot, we find the king of Jerusalem (otherwise known as Salem) came to him: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Gen 14:18-20) Note that he describes God as “Creator of heaven and earth”. There is clearly prior revelation here about the Lord, a unique being who is greater than anything or anyone else we can comprehend, who is the originator of everything we know in material and spiritual existence. THIS is the God we are introduced to in the Bible. We will consider some more of just who He is as we start to properly consider the first commandment in the next study.

Application: May I suggest we pray something like, “Lord God, you who are Creator of all things, we bow before you and worship you. Thank you that you have gradually revealed much about yourself through your word. Thank you that you know us, love us, and call us to yourself, just like you did with Abram. Thank you that you have plans and purposes for us that are good. Thank you that you understand that we are but like little children and are often slow to learn, but you love us, accept us as we are, and persevere with us. Thank you for this wonderful accepting and understanding love. Amen.”

2. Seeking Context

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 2. Seeking  Context

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

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

Our Beginning: Again may I start us off as I did previously:  “And God spoke all these words.” If you are an unbelieving skeptic then of course you will struggle with this but then you will struggle with all of the Bible. All I can do is ask you to open your mind to the possibility and see if you can catch the reality as we go through these studies. Yes, these words came to be written down on stone or slate slabs but initially they are spoken out loud (Ex 20:1-17) so that Moses hears them as he stands in God’s presence on Mount Sinai (otherwise known as Horeb). They are followed by the Lord giving a lot more ‘laws’ (Ex 21:1) that we find in chapters 21,22 and halfway through chapter 23 which Moses then conveys to the people who affirm their acceptance of them (Ex 24:3) and he then writes them down (Ex 24:4)  and that becomes the ‘Book of the Covenant’ or the basis of their agreement with God.

Tablets of Stone: Now there is also reference to God writing down on two stone tablets these laws: “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” (Ex 24:12) and, “When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.” (Ex 31:18) After the debacle of the Golden Calf when Moses smashed these two tablets of stone in anger, the Lord called him to create two new tablets (Ex 34:1a) and although the Lord said He would rewrite the commands (v.1b) it was in fact Moses who chiselled the words: “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” (Ex 34:28) Now although your Bible may have a title in chapter 20 with the number, this is in fact the first reference to the ‘Ten Commandments’ and we thus understand that that was all that was on these two tablets of stone, written originally by God but imparted by God and written by Moses the second time.

The Grace of God: Now in the next study we will consider in more detail something of the nature or character of God as revealed in the text in chapter 20, but for the moment I want us to look outside those specific words and consider the whole context of these laws being given to Moses. Consider what we know of Israel up to this point in chapter 34 of Exodus where we have just been:

– God called a reticent Moses (Ex 3 & 4) to go back to Egypt to deliver the people of Israel out of Egypt.

– when he meets the elders they initially believe him (Ex 4:29-31)

– when Pharaoh turns nasty, the people turn on Moses (Ex 5:6-21)

– when Moses passes on God’s encouragement they refuse to listen (Ex 6:9)

– as the ten plagues develop Pharaoh sends them out of the land but then pursues them and the people have a crisis of confidence at the Red Sea and blame Moses (Ex 14:10-12)

– their journey across the desert from Egypt to the south of Canaan is a story of complaint and grumbling by the people again and again.

The point I would make here is that the God who describes Himself as the one who “brought you out of Egypt , out of the land of slavery,”  is a God of immense graciousness. He is the One – and it is only Him – who brings Israel out of Egypt, He is the One – and it is only Him – who provides for them miraculously in their desert travels.  Now this needs saying because so often whenever they – and we – hear words of ‘command’, that thing called Sin (that propensity towards self-centred godlessness) rises up in objection because we do not realize the shear love and goodness of God whose intentions towards Israel and towards us are always good. He always purposes good for us. What we have here is a God who made this world for our provision and pleasure and who interacts with this world and speaks to individuals in this world and it is all to bless us and get us back on the right track after the Fall.

The Design of God: He can now be identified as the one who delivered Israel miraculously out of the hands of the most powerful despot in the world. There are those who would wish to acclaim the Ten Commandments as the most sublime and perfect set of laws the world has seen (but we will see that in reality they don’t mean that), and they would like to leave it at that, but that ignores the context. These are laws that God gives to His chosen people, a people who have come to know Him through His dealings with them both through the patriarchs and now through the release from slavery.

This is not to say that these laws cannot be adhered to by those who have not become believers but, as we shall see, when the first four are all about attitudes towards God Himself, it is difficult to see how they can be adopted in total by those who would reject Him. When we come to see each individual law, we will see that outside of God there is no foundation and reason for them to be followed. God Himself puts meaning into each law and without him they are mere tokens of civilization!

So the first thing about these ten commandments, is not how wonderful they are as simple laws, but the fact that they are laws given by the gracious God, the Maker of the Universe, the One who has designed this world to work in a particular way and who now reveals something of that way to us. This gracious God seeks to convey to this nation that His design for the people of the world – starting with them – is a way of life that is first founded on their knowledge of Him and only then in respect of one another. These laws are how to build a good society, a good community, but if it is to be meaningful and lasting, that people must first and foremost realize the wonder and the grace and the goodness of this God. The temptation – and it was seen in the subsequent history of Israel – is to separate the nation and their laws from the God who created both. It never works; if you separate God from His ‘design laws’, if you forget Him, you very soon start deviating from the laws and they lose their ability to guide the people.

And Us: This same principle of ‘separation of rules from God’ leading to failure, applies to us just as much as to Israel. It applies in raising families, it applies at work, it applies in Government, it applies in church. If we try to do these things by rules alone – ignoring or excluding God – we will soon find that the rules become a point of dispute, a cause of failure and a source of blame. Without consciously seeking the presence of God continually in my life and seeking Him for guidance, wisdom and power to comply with laws I may find in His word, I will soon find I am running on autopilot, probably using the Internet for helpful guidance, and losing touch with Him. The Ten Commandments without God may be ‘good rules’ but they will not bring life. Forgive me that I have taken up two studies before we actually get to the first of the commands, but these are essential matters if they are to release faith, life and love within us.

Application: Again, may we pray something like, “Lord God, thank you that you are a communicating God. Please open the eyes of my heart (Eph 1:18) to understand you. Thank you for the wonder of your grace that is revealed in your word. Please help me appreciate it more and more as every day goes by. Please help me see and be motivated by your love and grace that those may also become the key characteristics of my life as I seek to put you first in all things. Amen.”

Snapshots: Day 132

Snapshots: Day 132

The Snapshot: “the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors.” (Josh 21:43) An amazing – and very surprising description! Yes, the Land has been taken but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants still there. So, yes, the Lord’s will, described in those early days of Exodus to Moses has been fulfilled. But it is a challenging analogy. When we come to Christ there is a new ‘land’ to be taken, a new life to be lived, having left the old one (Egypt, the place of slavery) behind. And as we go in to take this new ‘land’ that Christ has earned for us and the Spirit empowers us to take, there is much from the past to be considered dead, much to be put to death (see Rom 6:11-13, Col 3:5,8,9, Eph 4:22-32), the battle for a godly & righteous ‘land’.

Further Consideration: This is God who, in this fallen world, tolerates imperfection in us. The fact that Israel had not cleared out every single Canaanite from the Land did not mean that the plan of God was thwarted, it just means (as we’ve seen again and again) He realistically works with the imperfect and incomplete.

It is an amazing challenge both for those atheists who foolishly say that God is harsh and vindictive, and those legalists who say that God is holy and therefore judges all wrongdoing. Well, for the latter group, that is true but He does it through the Cross; Jesus has taken the punishment for every wrong deed. If he hadn’t, not one of us could stand, everyone one of us would be living in fear, waiting for the hand of destruction to fall on us.

And so Israel ‘possess’ the land but there are still pockets of the old inhabitants around and the Lord knew this and said He would leave them as a challenge to Israel to test them. Every time Israel fell into disobedience, these enemies rose up and attacked them. It was a funny form of discipline, it wasn’t God hitting Israel with a big stick, but God allowing Israel to be disciplined by their own failure to deal with their enemies outright.

Now this is where it starts getting painful because this is what happens when we come to Christ. When we are saved, we are perfect in God’s eyes as far as our eternal destiny is concerned but the depth of our conversion, if I may put it like that, will determine the practicalities of our future lives here on earth. If we are half-hearted about our commitment, about our obedience, and do not put to death the deeds of self, they will eventually turn and bite us, they will cause us pain when they come out into the open and be seen for what they are. Unredeemed anger and its causes is a good example. If we don’t let the Lord work deeply in us, then anger (for whatever its unresolved cause) will flare up, cause upset, hurt and so on, and we will feel the pain. A Warning.

Snapshots: Day 98

Snapshots: Day 98

The Snapshot: “the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert.” (Deut 1:1) On the plains of Moab (1:5 & 34:1,8) Moses paused up. He’s near the end of his journey. The people will shortly enter the Land but he won’t. It is a significant time. Deuteronomy is the long record of his instructions to Israel there on the plains (except for ch.34 added by another recorder). At the end of it, he declared to them, “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” A book full of exhortations to obey the Lord, reject idol worship, and live for God. They could never say they weren’t told.  A blueprint for a nation blessed by God, but the trouble is blueprints get lost and forgotten. Israel forgot that. We have our New Testament; may we never forget this blueprint for blessing.

Further Consideration:  In some ways Deuteronomy is quite repetitious with similar sounding calls to obedience coming and calls to keep from idol worship, and so on, but we need repetition if we are to remember things. I teach a group about strengthening memory and of course the use of repetition is one such way, so don’t be put off by reading the same things more than once – we need that!

I wonder how Moses felt on the plains of Moab as he taught Israel over a number of days. His memory clearly went back to the times of their failures because we see him reminding Israel of them in the early chapters.  We need reminding of such times, if for no other reason than to remind us what not to do again. It also reminds us how gracious God is for putting up with us. Yet in the midst of that there is the warning of being held accountable. Many lessons.

So perhaps Moses is very much aware of how vulnerable Israel are to getting it wrong and so he keeps on saying the same thing to try to get them to get the message to obey God in the new land. But at that point he has the recognition that he will not be going in with them. He has a date with God in heaven, so they will be going in without him. Mixed emotions surely. Regret at having blown it at the rock? Regret at not going in, perhaps? Or maybe relief that he’s come to the end of his road with Israel. It has often been a tough time and he’s now 120, it’s now time to go home. I wonder if he felt like the apostle Paul felt centuries later: “The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:6,7)

Yes, probably a mixed bag of emotions, but whatever they were he remained faithful to his task of shepherding and guiding Israel so that there on the plains as his time draws near to leave, he pours his heart out for this people to remain faithful. What an example!

3. God of Self-Disclosure

Getting to Know God Meditations:  3. God of Self-Disclosure

Ex 3:6  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Taken for Granted?  Do we, who are believers, take for granted what is happening in the verse above, and if you are a new seeker, I wonder if you realize the enormity of what is happening here? As a reminder to believers and to explain to newcomers, Moses is talking with God. This is Moses, otherwise known in more recent cinematic terms as the Prince of Egypt. He has messed up and ended up caring for sheep for forty years in the desert, hundreds of miles from his old home in Egypt. One day he has a strange experience. He sees a bush on fire and yet it is not being destroyed. He wanders over to take a look and at the point a voice from nowhere appears to speak to him, claiming to be the God of his forefathers.

Now here is the challenging thing. We are saying there is a God as described in the Bible and sometimes (not often) He speaks out loud. This God is a communicating God, a God who communicates with human beings – and that is the claim right the way through the entire Bible. He speaks in a variety of ways but the claim is He communicates. (If there is a God, a living Being, why shouldn’t He communicate?) Now when He communicates here, He is saying to Moses that He is the same God who had communicated with the men we now refer to as the Patriarchs, the fathers of Israel.

Sequential History: And thus we are faced with sequential history, events following on from one another, not events that are free standing, we might say, but events that have direct links. In Genesis chapter 12 we are introduced to a pagan, a Semite who originated in Ur in Mesopotamia, a man who became referred to as “Abraham the Hebrew” (Gen 14:13). The origins of this word ‘Hebrew’ are unclear but the basis means ‘cross over  or pass through’. Later Joshua said of him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.” (Josh 24:2-4) The river appears to be the Euphrates.

This Joshua was the army commander who led Israel after Moses eventually died. Note again there is this historical flow in what he says: Abram, who God renamed Abraham, had a son Isaac, who had two sons Jacob and Esau and God renamed Jacob, Israel. Israel had twelve sons and as their families grew and developed they became a nation we now call Israel. But here’s another challenging thing: in what Joshua says, he maintains God spoke and declared He was the reason these families, and this nation, existed. When you read the story in detail in Genesis chapter 12 on, you can see why this claim is made. It is history, but history that includes the activity of God and that activity includes speaking, as well as a number of other things. The idea of a God who stands back and just watches this world is alien to the Bible, this God interacts with human beings.

More Self-Disclosure: Now in that same account of Moses at the burning bush we find Moses going on to ask a very pertinent question, pertinent in a world full of superstition and lots of ‘gods’, Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Ex 3:13)Now if I was just making up this story I would have God say to Moses, “Just say God sent you, that should be enough,” but He doesn’t, He says something I could never have dreamed up: God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14) As if that isn’t bad enough, He goes on, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’” (v.15)

Now there is a footnote in the Bible that the translators have put in, in respect of the word LORD seen there in capital letters, The Hebrew for Lord sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for I am in verse 14.” There was a custom in the Hebrew language for names to have meanings conveyed by words with similar sounds. Put most simply, whenever the word LORD appears in the Bible in the capital letters it is shorthand for “I am who I am”. So what are we to make of “I AM”? I would suggest, in line with the rest of the teaching of the Bible that it is God’s shorthand for saying, “I am eternal – I am, I always am, I always was, I always will be – I am outside of time.”

Now if we think about this some more, it is also like God is saying, “I am utterly different from all the ‘gods’ people make up”.  Perhaps you know something of the later gods of Greece and later the gods of Rome, figures with very human fallible characteristics.  One well known atheist has said something like, “If there wasn’t a god, human beings would have to invent one, it’s what they have always done.” So, yes, the nations of what we call the Middle East had their ‘gods’ and the voice speaking to Moses is essentially saying, “Don’t even think of me in the same breath! I am the Eternal One, the One who has always existed and always will exist.” I said in the first study that philosophers will say that the definition of God has to be One for whom there can be no one greater, and perhaps we should add, who is beyond our comprehension in that He has no beginning and no end.

Limited Self-Disclosure: We have simply started, in a very basic way, thinking about the fact that the Bible shows God revealing Himself to mankind in the ways we find in the Bible, but we have to say that it is very limited. Yes, He is eternal, yes, He does communicate and we will go on to see He is very much a God of Purpose, and that is all very clear from what we find in the Bible. There is also a great deal more of Him that can be found out by reading the Bible – as we will go on to do – but the fact of the matter is that even with all of what great books of theology might say, we know very little of who God is.

Why? Because my mind cannot grasp what eternal means. I know the definition but I cannot (and you cannot) comprehend the fact of a Being that has no beginning and no end. Young searchers often want to ask such questions as, ‘Well, how did God come into being, everything has a beginning?’ I have no idea, I just said I don’t know what eternal means, I cannot comprehend it. Having said there is a great deal of mystery surrounding the Being that we are constantly referring to as God (with a capital G) that doesn’t mean we are completely in the dark, for the point is that the Bible is all about God’s self-disclosure, His revelation of Himself, and there is a lot of it – and that is what (hopefully) this series is all about. Stay with me and we’ll see where it goes, and I hope you will find it happens in a way that is satisfactory, even though it cannot answer every possible question, I hope it will answer a lot of the questions that usually arise.

Snapshots: Day 86

Snapshots: Day 86

The Snapshot: “it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.” (Lev 1:4) How can killing a cow or a sheep make atonement, and what does atonement mean and do I need it? Some have suggested at-one-ment i.e. being made one with God again after a division caused by my sin. Synonyms are ‘compensation, amends, punishment’. This animal will be accepted by God to make up for my sins? However I see it, it is God saying by doing this one thing, I can take it that He accepts me back. But I feel bad about this animal dying for me? Accept it, it’s just a picture of what my Son will do for you one day. Your action will indicate your repentance and your obedience; that is enough, that is what this is all about.

Further Consideration: As we continue our slow progress through the Bible, the great temptation is to omit Leviticus because it seems at first sight to be so obscure in the light of today’s world – and messy. Yet we need to remember this was part of the Law given to Moses by God for Israel at that time and acted as part of the foundation of their lives as a godly community.  Some of the Law was about the priesthood but that was partly to support the expressions of activity laid out in the early chapters of Leviticus that we may summarise as ways of getting right with God after personal failure.

Living in a world as we do, where personal failure is simply something we quickly cover up but fail to deal with properly (so guilt remains and a vulnerability to repetition), it is difficult to grasp the simplicity of purpose found in the early chapters of Leviticus.

Our tendency is to avoid talking about our failures and pretending they didn’t happen, or to make excuses for them. God’s method is to openly confront them, not to leave us feeling guilty failures but to be left with a sense of resolution, that the failure (sin) has been properly dealt with before Him and so we will not have a constant feeling that He may yet be coming after us for it. The Bible is the best counselor on the planet. Instead of months of costly therapy, God declares the way to deal with guilt. For the embryonic nation of Israel it was to bring an offering, a sacrifice to the Tabernacle and to kill it before the priest. The shock of taking a life would impact the person offering it and convey a sense of the awfulness of sin but would leave them with the memory of an experience they had been through that left them clean and their sin dealt with before God so there would be no further likelihood of repercussions because of it.

Today you and I trust that Jesus is our sacrifice, when he died on the Cross and so when we “confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

Snapshots: Day 83

Snapshots: Day 83

The Snapshot: “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones.” (Ex 34:1) What amazing grace. God meets with Moses and Israel at Sinai and gives them the Law, part of which were on two slate (probably) slabs. Israel blow it, Moses loses his cool and smashes the two tablets. End of the story of Moses and Israel. Well, no, not actually.  Here’s the puzzle: why didn’t God slap Moses, why didn’t He abandon them, give up on them? I suppose it’s the same reason He doesn’t give up on us. He knows what we’re like, He knows we’re prone to getting it wrong, needing to be constantly encouraged, needing to be given a second chance – and third and fourth, and who knows how many chances. Amazingly love means He’s committed to helping us succeed. Yes, amazing!

Further Consideration: There is an infamous crusading atheist, who I shall not name, who became notorious by concocting a paragraph of total abuse describing God. The only problem was that it was complete rubbish based upon his ignorance of the Bible – and yet it was heralded and applauded by his devoted followers, which only goes to show there are a lot of people who are ignorant of what the Bible actually says.

I believe those of us who are believers may not be quite as bad, but often we skim over scriptures and fail to take in the wonder of what it is we are reading. I have sought in the snapshot above to counter that tendency by slowing us up and getting us to realize the grace of God that was being displayed when He instructed Moses to chisel out a second set of stone tablets on which He would rewrite the Ten Commandments.

I imagine a loving father with their young child and the child has just smashed up a model that the father had made for them. Resignedly, for he is a human father, he sighs and smiles and says, “OK, let’s have another go,” and commences to rebuild the broken model.

Again we take for granted, I believe, some of the New Testament teaching. For example, My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) There is this same thing – the God of second chances. He doesn’t want us to sin, He doesn’t want us to have temper tantrums and smash that which is precious, but when we do He is there, saddened I believe by our immaturity, but ready to forgive when we come to our senses and ask forgiveness, ready to get us up on our feet again and, pointed in the right direction again, and is there helping us have fresh resolve to get it right this time.

Yes, this is the God of second chances, the God of grace and mercy who is there for us. Never say otherwise. Worship and be thankful.

Snapshots: Day 75

Snapshots: Day 75

The Snapshot: “These are the laws you are to set before them.” (Ex 21:1) Many people don’t like ‘laws’ but the Laws of Moses are a sign of God’s love. They were clues to how He had designed us to live, how a community can live at peace, how things can be put right when we mess up, how to live differently and distinctly from the pagan nations surrounding them, how to live healthily dealing with various health problems that crop up in this fallen world  and, of course, how to relate to Him. They were specifically for Israel (and not us – many people don’t realize this), an agrarian society that was uniquely called to be God’s people. As Christians we have different ‘laws’ in the New Testament, all enhancing the wonder of our relationship with God through Jesus.

Further Consideration: We have been considering the ‘rules’ we find in the New Testament that guide us in our walk with Christ, rules which, I would suggest, reflect the laws of Moses in their purposes. They tell us how He has designed us to live in Christ, (e.g. Eph 2:1-10) forgiven and cleansed by his work on the Cross, now empowered by His Spirit. They show us how to be put right with God when we mess up (1 Jn 1:9, 2:1,2), how we can live differently from our neighbors (Rom 12:2), how to deal with health issues (Jas 5:14-16) and how to relate to Him (e.g. Phil 4:6,7). As you read through your New Testament watch out for these things and you will see many more instances of each of them. But there are two important things to be said.

First, keeping these laws or rules are not what enables us to be a Christian. We do not earn our salvation by rule-keeping; we receive it by believing in Jesus, that he is the Son of God who has died and risen again and is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies. The ‘rules’ are just ways we live out this new relationship with God that Jesus Has earned for us.

Second, these ‘rules’ distinguish us from our non-Christian neighbour and our call to him or her is not to follow the rules but to believe in Jesus. Our ‘rule-keeping’ is to demonstrate the wisdom and way of God that has been opened up to us through Christ. Don’t expect your unbelieving neighbour to follow and understand these same rules, because they cannot do that except as an outworking of the faith they have come to accept (hopefully) in Christ. The Laws of Moses and the rules of the New Testament reveal the love, goodness and wisdom of God. Some of those laws are strange to us because they reflected the pagan lives and practices around them to be avoided. Another reason why they are not for us. We have our own in Christ.