Snapshots: Day 63

Snapshots: Day 63

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

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

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

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

Snapshots: Day 48

Snapshots: Day 48

The Snapshot: “Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” (Ex 5:2) A hard heart is revealed by a “Why should I?” attitude. Why should I worship God? Why should I pray? Why should I read the Bible? Why should I go to church? Why should I do what I don’t want to do? Why should I obey him? Hard hearts refuse to listen to others. Hard hearts refuse to receive wise counsel. Hard hearts refuse to say sorry. Hard hearts continue to make excuses. A hard heart is simply any heart that has settled into a self-centred mode and refuses to change. Of course, all the refusals – pray, read, obey etc. – are irrelevant. It is the heart condition that is the critical issue. And it is critical because hardness turns into inactivity which becomes death.

Further Consideration: In the previous snapshot we sought to demonstrate how hard-heartedness, this resistance to outside pressure, can so easily mean we are operating against what can only be called common sense. It is that because any outsider looking in would see how foolish it was to pursue this course, a course that was doomed to failure and even likely to cause our demise.

But we see this same attitude in so many people around us who say, “Who is God, what is this religion, that should tell me what to do? Why should I obey the things your preachers say, who are you to say you are right and I am wrong?”

Increasingly I have to say, look at the way life, in the godless Western world, is working out. As they say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, i.e. ‘the final results are the only way to judge something’s quality or veracity’, to quote an internet definition. The Bible puts it more simply:A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

But the hardness of people’s hearts means they plough on through life living foolishly, suffering all the repercussions that are being seen to follow. Obesity is almost an epidemic because of lack of self-control in eating, alcoholism or a whole range of antisocial behaviour is seen following intemperate use of alcohol, failing relationships, growth of STDs, unwanted pregnancies, guilt-laden abortions, etc. etc. are the clearly visible fruit of hardhearted refusal to listen to God.

But why is it? The apostle Paul wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) How does he do that? Using what John called, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (1 Jn 2:16) or, “the world’s ways… the world’s goods… squeezing out love for the Father.” (Msg) These are the things that fuel a hard heart.

Snapshots: Day 47

Snapshots: Day 47

The Snapshot: “I will harden his heart.” (Ex 4:22) Lord, I’m a bit confused by this. I’ve looked up and there seem at least ten times when it says you hardened him and at least three times that he hardened himself. Which is true? Both. It’s very easy; when someone has a hard heart and you challenge them, their heart just gets harder.  So you were purposely making it worse? I was purposely making it clear to you what was going on in him. Er …. why? As a warning; how would you describe him? Me Lord? Yes, you.  Er, stubborn and pretty stupid really, I suppose. Was he unique in the human race? Definitely not.  What lessons do you think come out here? Well …. not to allow yourself to be hard-hearted, not to argue with I AM?    Silence.

Further Consideration: The heart? Of course when the Bible speaks of ‘the heart’ it is not referring to that muscle that pumps blood around the body but that inner area where will and intellect interact to guide, motivate, inspire the life that is ‘me’.

But that’s where it takes on differences in me from other people, differences in me as to how I react to God, to people, to circumstances. The Bible shows the possibilities: stubborn-hearted (Isa 46:12), an undivided heart (Ezek 11:19), a heart of stone or of flesh (Ezek 36:26), a troubled heart (Gen 6:6), a hard heart (Ex 7:3), a lusting heart (Num 15:39), a fearful heart (Deut 1:28), a seeking heart (Deut 4:29), a proud heart (Deut 8:14),  a pure heart (Mt 5:8), a gentle and humble heart (Mt 11:29) etc. etc.

All these descriptions show us what we are like ‘at the heart of us’, at the core of our being, that is expressed outwardly in life activity. And so we come to a ‘hard heart’, a person whose inner being is set and determined, who resists any pressure from outside of their being to change and conform to outside wishes, outside forces – God!

In Pharaoh we see the awfulness, the folly, of a heart that resists the pressures put upon it. To use a completely different analogy, imagine a man driving a car across the country and he decides to keep himself awake by having half a dozen bottles of alcohol beside him which he will use from time to time. You try to explain to him that it won’t work, in him like that, that it will incapacitate him, but he has set his heart on this. He starts off and you ring him on his cell phone, his mobile in the car, and you plead with him not to drink from the bottles, but his heart is hard, he refuses to listen to you; you keep on warning him but he refuses to listen, even though his vision is becoming impaired. Eventually you hear over the phone the sounds of the crash. It was inevitable! Thus it is inevitable that pressed and pressed Pharaoh’s hard heart will get harder and bring about his demise. Learn.

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.


3. Exodus (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Genesis (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights:   2.  Genesis (2)

Gen 50:20  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

In the first meditation of this new series I said I hoped to take one or two verses from each book of the Bible, sometimes perhaps two sets of verses, depending on the book.  Well here above we have a second verse from Genesis that stands out like the light from a lighthouse. As with all such verses we need to understand the context, the story from which it flows, to understand the significance of it, and once we see that then we can chew on the truths there.

These are the words spoken by the Joseph of the Old Testament (there is, of course, a Joseph in the New Testament – Jesus’ human father). Joseph had been the spoilt brat, youngest-but-one son of a big family and so, as a result, his brothers had despised him. Then he had started getting prophetic pictures which seemed to suggest that the rest of the family would end up bowing down to him. That really annoyed them and so when, a little while later, the opportunity arose, the brothers sold him off to passing slave traders without, of course, telling his father what they had done.

To cut a long story short, after about fourteen years, we find Joseph in a prison in Egypt, where God is still giving him prophetic pictures for some of the other inmates. One of them is released and when the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, starts having strange dreams, this man eventually suggests seeing if Joseph can help. When Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and hears the dreams, he explains that God will be bringing seven years of plenty in the land but that will be followed by seven years of famine, and the obvious thing to do, therefore, is put food aside during those first seven years to see them through the years of famine. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph that he makes him second-in-command in his nation and gives him the job of bringing it about.

When the seven years of famine strike, they seem to affect all the lands of what we might call the Middle East, including Canaan, where his family still live. The word gets out that Egypt has food and so eventually Joseph’s father, old man Jacob (or Israel), sends the brothers to buy food in Egypt. Again, to cut a long story short, the family eventually settle in Egypt under Joseph’s protection but years later when the old man dies, the brothers fear that Joseph will now wreak vengeance on them for what they had done all those years before. This is the context for the words above.

This insight of Joseph’s is amazing. First of all it shows revelation. The spoilt brat has grown into a man of wisdom and insight, and that insight means understanding the purposes of God. Put most simply, it was that God intervenes in the affairs of mankind and speaks to us when we need it, and He has a plan.  There it is again, what we saw in the first meditation. He has a plan!  Second, this shows that the Lord has managed to work grace, mercy and forgiveness into Joseph for he has no desire to harm his brothers. To the contrary, he wants them to understand that this was the working of God.

Now those two things were in respect of Joseph but there are two breathtaking things about God here. First, as we’ve already noted, God has a plan and it is a plan to save His chosen family, but when we trek on four hundred years we see that this plan involves setting the scene for what will become one of the two biggest events in the history of Israel, the Exodus. (the other is the Exile). That is going to be monumental and God had already spoken of it to Abram (Gen 15:13,14).

Now if that isn’t big enough, the second thing is even greater. The clear implication of these words of Joseph now, is that God took the wrong motives and wrong actions of the brothers and used them for His own purposes which was to get Joseph, as His mouthpiece, to Egypt so he could save Egypt and consequently his own family. This is God who uses sinful men for His own purposes. We see it in the Old Testament in the way, centuries later, He would take and use Nebuchadnezzar to discipline Israel and destroy Jerusalem and bring about the Exile. We see it in the New Testament in what happened to Jesus. The apostle Peter explains it under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) This doesn’t say that God made the Jews act like they did to crucify Jesus, but He knew given a certain set of circumstances, that is how sinful men would react.

Now if I try and apply these two things to my life today, it becomes mind-blowing. Not only does God have a plan for my life, but He will take and use the things of this Fallen World for my ultimate blessing. Those ‘things’ may include my own foolishness, they may include Satan’s activities and they may include the sinful intention and words and deeds of others. Yes, the incredible truth is that God will use all these things for my good. The apostle Paul caught this when he wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Some modern versions change that to take the emphasis off God: we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (EST) or “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (NKJV) but the implication is the same, God is bringing good into our lives, using WHATEVER is happening and whoever is involved. That brings an immense sense of reassurance to my life, a new confidence in which to live out today. World, you can do what you will, but my God is working in your mess for my good!

That, ultimately was what Joseph got to. Yes, he had been sold into slavery (Gen 37:26-28) where he was sold on in Egypt (Gen 37:36), where he was falsely accused and imprisoned (Gen 39:14-20), yet wherever he was the Lord gave him favour with his captors (Gen 39:2-6, 20-23). In the midst of his trials God blessed him. Can we expect that today? Surely with Jesus seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), and with his Holy Spirit within us, the answer must be, yes! Still the Lord has a plan, still He uses the affairs of this broken world to bring His blessing to His children. Hallelujah!

48. Song of Triumph

Meditations in Exodus: 48. Song of Triumph

Ex 15:1   Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.

I am not a very musical person and songs and music don’t play a large part in my life. Sorry about that.  However songs, I believe, convey something of the state of mind and songs sometimes (in me as well) just burst out of us when we are feeling good. The first part of chapter 15 is a song: Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD.” (v.1a) They didn’t just sing it, they sung it to the Lord; it was an offering of thanks, praise and worship because of who God is and what he had just done: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.” (v.1b) There is no question here but they refer to His having destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the sea that they had passed through.

They then speak of what they feel about Him as a result of this: “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (v.2) The ‘I AM’ who had revealed Himself to Abram, Isaac and Jacob and then more recently to Moses, is not a distant God but one who had come and been their salvation, their deliverer.

Then they revert to what the Lord has just done: “The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone.” (v.3-5)  Now there are those who dispute whether the Exodus ever happened because, they say, there appear no records of such a thing in the Egyptian records. That is not surprising because it would have shown up Egypt very badly, but not only is there the record in the chapters we have just been following, we now have this song which refers to the overcoming of Pharaoh and the destruction of his army. Why bother to write such a thing, why bother to include it here if it were untrue? No Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the sea.

This action truly revealed the greatness of the power of the Lord: “Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood firm like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.” (v.6-8) In poetic terms they extol His greatness, His power, acknowledging how He had brought down the enemy and left them in the sea.

They remember Pharaoh’s pride: “The enemy boasted, `I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them. I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.” (v.10a) Pharaoh had thought himself so strong that he would easily overtake and destroy Israel but, “you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters.” (v.10b) They were no match for the Lord and so they are all drowned.

This amazing action marks out the Lord from all other gods: “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you– majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them.” (v.11,12) He just stretched out His hand and the whole of Pharaoh’s army were dealt with.

But then the song speaks in faith of the future: “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia. The chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, the people of Canaan will melt away; terror and dread will fall upon them.” (v.13-16a) The Lord will lead His people and the onlooking nations will hear of what He does and they will tremble. Yes, this is exactly how it will be: “By the power of your arm they will be as still as a stone– until your people pass by, O LORD, until the people you bought pass by.” (v.16b) Yes, the neighbouring nations will hold their breath and stand as stone until Israel have passed by and then they can breath easily again.  But there is more; “You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance– the place, O LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The LORD will reign for ever and ever.” (v.17,18) God has a plan for Israel, He has a home for them and He will take them to it and His glory will be seen.

The song concludes with a summary: “When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.” (v.19) This song concludes with the bald statement that GOD dealt with Pharaoh and his army by drowning them in the sea. This was His judgment on them. This was the song Moses and all Israel sang but Miriam added a rider: “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.” (v.20,21)

Again and again this song testifies to the historical truth – God brought His judgment on Pharaoh and his army by drowning them in the same sea that Israel had just passed through safely. (v.4,5,10,12,19,21) But it is more that just a song of victory, it is a prophetic declaration of what will yet happen in the days ahead as the Lord leads Israel and in that it is highly accurate.

Testimony is very important. Testimony is a declaration of what the Lord HAS done. The more we testify the more we realise the wonder of what God has done in our lives. Whether you do it before other people or you simply do it in prayer, declare again and again the wonders of what God has done for you personally. Let your testimony be a base for praise, thanksgiving and worship, and as you testify your faith will rise and the Holy Spirit may be able to speak through you the things yet to come, the things He wants for your life, the things He wants to do through you. May it be so.

45. The Wisdom & Provision of God

Meditations in Exodus: 45. The Wisdom & Provision of God

Ex 13:17,18   When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.

These chapters appear to be made up of blocks of information, each one different and yet each one highly significant in its own way. This block of the remaining verses in this chapter contains three distinct sets of information.

The first set of information (v.17 & 18) is about the route that Israel took at the Lord’s leading and in it we see the Lord’s wisdom: When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.” (v.17,18)

Their end goal is the Promised Land or what we have often called Canaan and in more modern times, Palestine, directly north on the cost of the Mediterranean Sea. However the most direct route to it was through the land of the Philistines (south west of what became Israel) and they were known for being marauders and that route, as it left Egypt, was heavily guarded by a string of Egyptian fortresses. Neither wanting His people to have to contend with the Philistines nor possibly have trouble with the outlying Egyptian fortresses, the Lord led them more to the east towards what is known as the Red Sea or Reed Sea, or Sea of Reeds. If Israel found immediate conflict with the Philistines the Lord foresaw that they were not yet a great fighting force but more of a motley mass of individual families, and they might lose heart and turn round and go back to Egypt. This is the declared reason of the Lord but as we shall see there might yet be another double reason why He took them this more easterly route but we will have to wait until the next meditation to see that.

We then come in the second mini-block of information (v.19) to what is an action based upon history: Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” (v.19) In Gen 50:24,25 Joseph had made his brothers make this promise which Moses now fulfils and Joshua will see is done (see Josh 24:32). It is a prophetic fulfillment sign that emphasises the strength of the will of God that had been declared to the Patriarchs and was now being fulfilled. Jacob had already been buried in Canaan and now Joseph can be as well (when they reach there! Amazing to think  they carried Joseph’s bones around with then for what eventually turned out to be over forty years!)

In the final mini-block of information we see the Lord’s ongoing provision for this people – His visible guidance! “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” (v.20-22) In 12:37 we noted they had moved to Succoth, thought to be west of the Bitter Lakes, and now they move north east to Etham, thought to be nearer the Bitter Lakes in the north of Egypt.

Now note very carefully this is no random moving but they moved as guided by God and only when God guides. His provision of guidance is clearly visible and can only be described as divinely supernatural, a pillar of cloud by day which turned into a pillar of fire by night. Both of these pillars indicate the presence of God (see Ex 14:24). It would appear that subsequently the Lord often spoke to them from the pillar (see Num 12:5-6; Dt 31:15-16; Psa 99:6-7)

There are those (who presumably don’t read the text carefully) who would make suggestions for a variety of paths for Israel to take but I suggest there are sufficient names to make it quite clear. Some would like to suggest theirs was a random wandering but the Lord’s very obvious presence with them in these two ways challenges that. Now this is going to become significantly important shortly and so we will retrain making comments that are more applicable in the next study. Simply bear it in mind that Israel are where they are NOT by accident but by the Lord’s design. I will stop at that point.

However, there is one further point to be observed in passing, the final part of verse 18: The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.”  Although we were told earlier that the Lord didn’t want Israel to get into skirmishes with the Philistines, nevertheless they go out fully armed. One can only surmise that this was part of their “plundering the Egyptians” (12:36).  Before they enter the Land many years will pass but when they eventually do they will need to fight both on their way towards the land and once they are in it. At least they are equipped for a fight even if mentally they may not yet be ready for it. Is there something for us to ponder on in that?

As I view what went on here, I sometimes wonder how the Lord may ‘interfere’ with our lives to protect us? Does He stop us moving into certain activities because He sees that in the long-run it will be harmful for us? Does He stop us doing some things because He sees that it would develop pride in us that would overwhelm us? He certainly gives us great leeway as our mistakes show, but I still have this feeling that He keeps us away from other things to protect us. Check your life and see if you feel the same – and then give thanks.

42. A Hasty Departure

Meditations in Exodus: 42. A Hasty Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


41. Tenth Plague – Firstborn

Meditations in Exodus: 41. Tenth Plague – Firstborn

Ex 12:29.30   At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

Imagine the street where you live (assuming you know the people who live there). Imagine the families; some have young children, some have teenagers, and others have those who can no longer be called ‘children’ for they have been to Uni, come home again, maybe even got a job and were in the process of setting up a home of their own. One morning you hear the sound of an ambulance, and then another and another. All up and down the street there has been a terrible inexplicable ‘plague’ and every single eldest boy in the family is dead. There is absolute mayhem.

Now I put this plague into a modern setting like this because if we have read Exodus before we may become blasé about the nature of what was happening. Perhaps we have almost become conditioned by the previous plagues – it’s just another plague. No, it isn’t ‘just’ another’ plague, it is something that hits every single family that has male children. If a family only had daughters they might be thankful they had no sons for their neighbours were in absolute crisis. Only yesterday, given in the notices in church, the death of a child – we believe by suicide probably – of a family no longer with us but who we know. The announcement was given in sombre tones and a silence fell on the room as we felt for the parents. Multiply that a thousand fold or tens of thousands perhaps, and you have what is happening in Egypt at this moment.

Now, as we started out looking at the actual plagues, I reminded us of God’s words through Ezekiel: 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 then, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) and then there is also, “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?” (Ex 33:11)  Three times Ezekiel heard that same message which is born out elsewhere in the Bible.

Now I am in the process of writing a book (not yet complete) called, “The Judgments of a Loving God”, in which I investigate every judgment of God in the whole Bible. The vast majority of judgments I call ‘disciplinary judgments’ because they do not end in death and are designed to bring about change of behaviour. The other judgments that end in death I call ‘terminal judgments’ but as I explored this subject more and more, I came to see that perhaps a better description of such judgments as this one  is a ‘judgment of the last resort’, i.e. God only take life if there is no other action that will remedy or correct a situation to save the earth, save a people from other destruction; God steps in to surgically limit the damage to the world.

Now this particular judgment is unusual in that it discriminates between people. The only ones whose lives are taken are eldest sons. No one else is touched, the vast majority of the nation are spared – but shattered! In writing the book I have also sought to consider what would have happened had this judgment NOT occurred. It is difficult to know because our knowledge of their times is limited, but let me suggest the following possibilities, and that is all they are:

  1. The superstitious religion of the day founded on fear would have continued to grow in power and even more ‘gods’ would have been dreamt up and even more terrible rituals promoted. As it was so often, it meant the sacrifice of a child.
  2. This same religion was occult based and the occult would have grown and grown in power accompanied by all the characteristics that go with the occult – denial of God, rejection of God for self-serving purposes, including the worship of Satan, fear and oppression

Now those would almost certainly be ongoing outworkings and somewhere along the line there would come almost certainly THE greatest negative of all that was going on in Egypt when Moses arrived:

3. Pharaoh would eventually turn on Moses and Israel and destroy them in large numbers if not completely. The Bible shows us that Satan is out to destroy God’s people and this would almost certainly have come about if left.

So, I would suggest, as terrible as this judgment is, it is restrained in as far as the majority of the population are untouched, and yet it is sufficiently horrific to have the desired effect, of bringing down the power of false religion and eventually the power of Pharaoh while bringing release for Israel.

The effect of this plague is instant: “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (v.31-33)  Pharaoh acts straight away and even the Egyptian people understand and urge them on their way. The haste of the Israelites is seen by what was later institutionalized in the feast: “So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing.” (v.34) Moreover, “The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.” (v.35,36)

And so it comes to an end – but not quite, there is a further act yet to be played out as we’ll see in the next meditations. Remember the ‘theology’ behind this plague and never let people say foolish or unwise things born out of ignorance about God: i) God does not like taking life. ii) Where He does take life (fairly rare in reality in the Bible in comparison to what could be) it is always an act of last resort to save His people or save the world from something worse. Our questions arise from the fact that we never have the full facts of the situation. God does, so trust His love and mercy – and seek to learn the full picture of what the Bible teaches.