Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Instructions For Commemorating The Passover

Exodus 12:14-19

God had instructed Israel what they were to do in order to escape the Judgment on Egypt and be prepared to leave when they were allowed to go. When Israel came into Egypt, they had gone as a small family unit. In Egypt, they had just been a minor ethnic group, serving the Egyptians. The day they are set free will be their Independence Day, the day they became a free nation. Politically, celebrating Passover is very much like celebrating the Fourth of July in the United States, Boxing Day in Canada or Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. It reminds them of how their nation was formed.

Because Israel’s freedom was accomplished through a series of actions by God with no real action by Israel itself beyond simply following God’s instructions, Passover is a tribute to God’s power and love. Religiously, it is about the equivalent of Christians celebrating the resurrection on Easter or Christ’s birth at Christmas.

Frequently in the United States, our Fourth of July celebrations have focused entirely on the day off and the fireworks displays, with little attention given to what they meant. Christmas is so focused on Santa Claus and giving presents that the reason for Christ’s birth is forgotten and hunting Easter eggs is more important than the Resurrection. To prevent losing it’s meaning, God gave specific instructions as to how Passover was to be celebrated.

“And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.” (Exodus 12:14)

That very night Israel would be delivered from the power of Egypt. They would never return to Egypt again. They were to celebrate Passover as a reminder of deliverance that would never be needed again. Though sin would lead to their becoming slaves in the future, they would never lose their national identity. They were to never stop celebrating God’s deliverance.

The night before he was executed, under the Jewish method of keeping time, on Passover day, Christ celebrated Passover with his disciples. While partaking the Passover, He instituted the Lord’s Supper as described in Luke 22:15-19. “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”

I Corinthians 5:7 tells us that Christ is our Passover, and he has commanded us to celebrate the Communion service in remembrance of him just as the Jews celebrated the Passover. Just as specific guidelines were laid down here for celebrating the Passover, to prevent it losing its meaning, specific guidelines were laid out for the celebration of communion in I Corinthians 11. We will look at those guidelines as we go.

“Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. ” (Exodus 12:15-16)

In the future celebrations of Passover, Israel was to eliminate any leavening agent for a period of seven days, Any one who ate leavened food during that period was to be cut off from Israel, to be disfellowshipped. For the seven days after the Passover thre was to be no leavening found in any of their homes or food. Both the first day and the seventh Day were to an holy convocation or special religious assembly.

“And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.” (Exodus 12:17-18)

The feast of unleavened Bread was to start with the Passover in the evening of the fourteenth day of Nissan and continue through the twenty first day of Nissan. Since a three hundred sixty five day year does not divide evenly into seven day weeks, The fourteenth day of Nissan does not always fall on a certain day of the week. One of the ways we know that the Gregorian calendar, the modern system of dating is in error as to when Christ was crucified is that the record of the Passover in the New Testament and the Jewish calendar do not coincide with the Gregorian calendar for that year. In fact it must be at least three years later or four years earlier. It complicates giving exact dates for many of these events.

“Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:19-20)

The importance of the use of unleavened bread was repeated, stressing that leavened bread during the feast would require separation whether by a resident or by a non resident.

In I Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul was addressing the issue of those who claimed to be Christians and refused to stop their sin. He said it was the church’s responsibility to separate from those who refused, using this prohibition of leavened bread as the basis. “…Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

In I Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul gives a specific warning to those who would partake of the Lord’s supper. “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”

In taking Communion, we are commemorating that Christ has forgiven us and taken away our sins. A person who partakes of the Communion with unrepented and unforgiven sin makes a mockery of what Christ has done. As Paul points out, it is not a matter to take lightly. Prior to taking the Communion there should be a time of self examination to see if we are qualified to partake and to put away any sin that might prevent us partaking. I John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Paul introduces his teaching on Communion in I Corinthians 11:23-26. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." It must never become just a ritual or custom we follow.

Israel was commanded to keep the Passover annually. Christ did not specify that Christians were to keep the communion just once a year although the fact that it was instituted during his celebration of the Passover would seem to imply such was his intent. Over the years I have known a number of people who refused to partake because of sin in their lives. He commanded us, “… this do in remembrance of me.” Refusal to do so implies they are not willing to put the sin out of their lives and they do not appreciate what Christ has done for them. Matthew 18:15-17 describes the steps to be taken with people who refuse to quit sin, and is the basis for Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 5.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Instructions For The First Passover

Exodus 12:1-14

Moses had announced God‘s final action that would free the Israelites from Egyptian domination in Exodus 11:4-8. “And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.

But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger.”

God had promised that he would spare the Israelites from the plague, and that it would result in their deliverance. Now God described what Israel must do to prepare for their deliverance. It was to be the basis of a custom Israel was to keep forever. The Passover is especially for Christians to understand as the New Testament uses it to explain what Christ’s sacrifice means. The communion service was instituted during Christ’s celebration of the Passover, and serves the same purpose for the Christian as Passover does for the Jew. Since failure to keep Passover according to the guidelines was grounds for dis-fellowshipping, Jesus and his disciples were following these guidelines at the Lord’s supper. To observe Communion in manner consistent with the New Testament description, we will need to observe a very similar standard.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.” (Exodus 12:1-4)

In the Jewish calendar, the first month is Nissan, which runs from about the middle of March to the middle of April. Because the Catholic Church adopted the pagan way of setting Easter rather than the Jewish calendar, our Easter date varies, always coming on a Sunday, rather than on the set date, which would not always occur on Sunday. Since the Bible does not command us to celebrate the Resurrection on certain day, we are not obligated to follow the Jewish custom in this regard, and adhering to the traditional Easter date is acceptable.

Notice that each family was to partake the Passover, sharing with another family only if the family was not large enough to consume the entire lamb. It was not to be a gathering of all Israel, but of individual families. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper, he did not invite others, but limited it to the twelve apostles. The Communion service would thus appear to be intended for the members of the Local church, not for the general public.

“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.” (Exodus 12:5-7)

I Corinthians 5:7 declares “… For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” As our Passover lamb, Christ was declared innocent by both Herod and Pilate. He had been observed, not just for four days, but for three years. When the sacrifice was killed, it was to be done publicly and when Jesus was executed, almost the entire population of Jerusalem was there to observe the crucifixion.

Each family was then to individually apply the blood from their lamb to the doorposts and across the lintel of the home where it would be eaten. It could not be done by some priest or religious organization for all the people. It could not be done by proxy, even after the temple was built. In the same way, in the New Testament, salvation is only through individual acceptance and cannot be obtained action of the church, by the prayers of priests or saints, or by baptism for the dead.

“And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD'S passover.” (Exodus 12:8-11)

Very specific guidelines were described as to how the Passover was to be prepared and what could accompany it. The entire body was to be roasted. It could not be boiled or eaten raw. There could be no leftovers. The bread eaten with it could not be leavened, could not have any form of yeast in it, and only natural vegetables could be used, the bitter herbs. There were logistical reasons for these requirements. They were to have everything packed and ready to leave. There was not to be time to wash kettles or bowls used in allowing the bread to sit while it raised. There would not be time to save the leftovers. They were to be ready to leave as soon as they finished eating. While boiling would destroy the bitterness of the herbs, it would require washing pots and kettles. Unleavened bread could be prepared on a moment’s notice and with minimal mixing simply wrapped in leaves and baked in the fire or roasted on a stick over the fire.

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12-13)

The application of the blood to the doorposts and lintel was critical. Any house where the blood was not applied would be subject to the same judgment as would come on the Egyptians. No one would be killed in any house where the blood was applied, and every house which lacked the blood would suffer a death.

I Corinthians 5:7 stated that Christ is our Passover, and John 3:16-18 paints a similar picture of acceptance of Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

Just as death was certain for anyone who did not apply the blood to the doorposts and Lintel, eternal death is certain for everyone who does not proactively believe in Christ. They could not later apply the blood so their children would be restored to life. It had to be done before the Death Angel passed by. There is no opportunity for either the Catholic purgatory or the Mormon version of baptism for the dead.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Final Warning

Exodus 11:1-10

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.” (Exodus 11:1)

When a person delivers an ultimatum, he has in effect said he will no longer consider anything the other party offers. There can be no further negotiations. It is essentially what every bully does, threatening his victim if he is not given what he wants. This leaves the other side two choices, either capitulate and give up their interests completely or refuse and take the consequences. He has to decide how important his position is, knowing that he is no longer considered of value.

Using ultimatums always causes resentment because no one likes being bullied, and eventually results in rebellion. Many marriages break down up because bullying with ultimatums creates such resentment. Many civil wars result from the same bullying tactics by a political party or leader. It is tearing the United States apart today. As both parties try to bully the other.

People who care about the one being bullied often intervene. Though I had no fights in High School, seeing my younger brother being bullied by a boy several years older, I grabbed the bully and threw him over a nearby fence telling him he better not ever bother my brother again. Pharaoh told Moses that he would be killed if he ever approached him again. God promised there would be no further need for negotiation. Not only would Pharaoh allow them to leave, he would drive them out.

“Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people.” (Exodus 11:2-3)

For four hundred years, the Israelites had worked for the Egyptians without pay. Now God told them to go to the Egyptians and ask for money, and jewelry. While Pharaoh was concerned with getting his way, the Egyptian people were wanting relief. They recognized Moses’ power and were happy to give what the Jews asked in hopes they wouldn’t have to suffer any more.

“And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.

But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger.” ” (Exodus 11:4-8)

This time God didn’t give Pharaoh a choice. He just told him what was going to happen. Because they had refused to allow the Hebrews to leave, God was going to kill the oldest male baby in every family and of every animal in the land of Egypt at midnight. Pharaoh’s son would die at the same time as that of his poorest subject. As a special sign to Pharaoh, the might this happened, there wouldn’t even be dog barking at one of the Israelites. When it was over, the people would beg the Israelites to leave, and Pharaoh would be forced to allow it if he wanted to retain his position.. Moses went away frustrated and angry that anyone could be so stubborn as to inflict such suffering on other people when they were already begging him to change his stance.

For many years I thought Pharaoh must be abnormally self centered, but as I have watched governments in country after country, I have begun to realize he was just typical of those who seek their own power. Eventually they reach a point where nothing matters but getting their own way.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.

And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.” (Exodus 11:9-10)

Once again God warned Moses that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen. God did not make Pharaoh so stubborn, but each trial was chosen to cause him to become more determined to have his own way. At any point Pharaoh could have allowed the Jews to go. His repeated refusal to heed permitted God to reveal his power to both the Egyptians and the Jews.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Economic Destruction

Genesis 10:1-20

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him: And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the LORD.” (Genesis 10:1-2)

Pharaoh had repeatedly ignored the plight of both Israel and his own people in refusing to acknowledge God. Genesis 6:3 warns, “…My spirit shall not always strive with man…” While God gives mankind repeated chances, there is a cutoff point. From this point on, Pharaoh would become increasingly irrational in his decisions. In the last few years we have seen several dictators reach this same point and eventually are overthrown.

God caused Pharaoh to become so determined to have his way he could no longer understand the consequences in order to accomplish his purpose, and his supporters would have the same attitude. God will use that attitude to show Israel his power and give them memories to inspire faith in future generations.

“And Moses and Aaron came in unto Pharaoh, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? let my people go, that they may serve me.

Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast: And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field: And they shall fill thy houses, and the houses of all thy servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians; which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers' fathers have seen, since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day. And he turned himself, and went out from Pharaoh.” (Exodus 10:4-6)

Pharaoh was not willing to give up his pride and acknowledge there was anything he couldn’t control. The next event would be a plague of locusts such as they had never seen. A writer described living through infestations of locusts in Africa, stating that there were so many they stripped every bit edible plant even gnawing bark off trees and paint off buildings, leaving the ground completely bare behind them. Fortunately their paths were usually only a few miles wide. The Egyptians were familiar with these attacks, and understood exactly what was being described. When Moses said it would be worse than they had ever seen, it got their attention.

“And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?” (Exodus 10:7)

During Joseph’s time Egypt had saved a vast reserve of food that when coupled with what they were able to produce each year enabled them to survive. Government policies had eliminated the reserves. Both the hail and the livestock disease had wiped out most of their cattle, and the blood in the river had decimated the fish, largely eliminating those sources of food. The hail and fire had destroyed the early crops making them totally dependent on the later ones. They were facing food shortages even without the locusts and even a normal invasion of locusts would be disastrous. The people themselves begged Pharaoh to just set Israel free.

“And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the LORD your God: but who are they that shall go?

And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the LORD.

And he said unto them, Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you. Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the LORD; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence.” (Exodus 10:8-11)

Under pressure from his own constituency Pharaoh demanded more information and a what initially sounded like a compromise. They would be allowed to go, but only if they left their families and belongings behind. In many ways his offer resembles those of our American administration and congress, with neither party willing to give any significant concessions, and the results were the same. Their discussions broke down and Pharaoh drove Moses and Aaron out, accusing them of causing the problems.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come up upon the land of Egypt, and eat every herb of the land, even all that the hail hath left.

And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts. And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 10:12-15)

The results of Pharaoh’s refusal to change his policies were entirely predictable. The remainder of Egypt’s food supply was wiped out, ensuring famine and possible economic collapse. For several years, Egypt would be dependent on outside sources for at least part of their food. It finally soaked in on Pharaoh that the crisis could not just be blown off.

“Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and entreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only.” (Exodus 10:16-17)

Finally acknowledging that his policies had played a part in what had happened, Pharaoh requested that Moses pray for God to take away the locusts that were destroying their land before there was nothing left to save.

“And he went out from Pharaoh, and entreated the LORD. And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt.

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.” (Exodus 10:18-20)

Pharaoh was desperate to get something done, and would say or do almost anything, but as soon as there was a sign that things might not get worse, he went back to doing the same things. He still was not committed to making real change.

In my years as pastor, I have dealt with a great many people about everything from Alcoholism and drug use to financial and marital problems. I have watched people with diabetes, emphysema, and heart trouble. Many of them would temporarily cut back on the harmful activities, dieting or reducing their spending or smoking for a while resulting in temporary relief, Convinced they had solved the problem, they resumed the activity, quickly getting into even worse shape. Only those who committed to fundamental changes obtained permanent solutions.

It makes no difference whether we are discussing an individual, a business, or a government system, Problems will only be resolved when there is a willingness to make fundamental changes. Because there does not appear to be much willingness to make real changes in the modern way of life, I see little hope for a economic recovery or real revival today. However, just as individuals who took appropriate action to protect their property from the hail were spared most of the damage, individuals who act today can avoid most of the suffering that will entail for those who refuse.

“And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die. And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.” (Exodus 10:28-29)

Pharaoh refused to even consider any other alternatives. He threatened to kill them if they opposed him any more. He still blamed Moses, rather than God.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Extreme Weather

Exodus 9:13-29

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth.

And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth. As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go? ” (Exodus 9:13-17)

Satan had used man’s pride to deceive Eve, promising she’d be like God. Humans have been trying to act as Gods so they can make the rules themselves ever since. The Egyptian culture had exalted Pharaoh as a God, and he was capitalizing on his exaltation.
Had Pharaoh simply given them the freedom to worship as they asked, his authority would never have come into question. By refusing their request he could demonstrate his godlike power over them, satisfying his pride.

God had chosen to make Pharaoh king because his stubbornness and pride would prevent giving in until all the Egyptians knew his position and power did not make him a god. They would know who God was and understand that his power did not derive from their approval. A less stubborn person might have yielded when the waters of the Nile turned to blood, preventing God from demonstrating his power.

We sometimes get frustrated with the attitude of our leaders, but God has placed them there. They may well be there to enable God to demonstrate his power in our country, because the people have forgotten who God is. I’m sure that had a poll been taken at the time, it would have shown growing discontent with his policies. The people gained nothing from his refusal to let the Israelites go, but they suffered from the frogs, lice and flies more than he did. The effects of each of the prior plagues except the death of the cattle was relatively short lived. The effects of the next plague would last a long time.

“Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now. Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.” (Exodus 9:18-19)

Epidemics seldom wipe out entire populations because of the body’s ability to produce antibodies to destroy antigens, and because not all have equal exposure, although they may reduce the population to such a level as to make it susceptible to other factors. Some of each species of cattle had survived the murrain, although it crossed all the species. The hail that God would send would beat anything that was exposed to death. Moses warned them to get themselves and their surviving cattle into shelter if they wanted to have any left.

“He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: And he that regarded not the word of the LORD left his servants and his cattle in the field.” (Exodus 9:20-21)

Time after time advance warnings have been give about wildfires, floods and hurricanes. There seems to always be a group of people who ignore the warnings and refuse to evacuate or take appropriate action. Having seen what happened when Moses warned them before, some heeded the warning and took action while others refused to believe it would be that serious.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch forth thine hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field, throughout the land of Egypt.

And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail.” (Exodus 9:23-26)

People who have seen the Hail storms in the plains or the southwestern deserts have some understanding of what this storm may have been like. Hail as large as golf balls is common and some larger than a baseball has been recorded, and it may last for a prolonged time. I have seen as much as a foot on the ground after a storm. Animals and birds are sometimes killed by such storms. Fortunately such storms are usually confined to a relatively small area.

Severe lightening may accompany such a storm, and because dry soil is such a poor conductor of electricity it runs along the surface of the ground creating what is known as St. Elmo’s fire or starting wild fires. This storm was more widespread than normal, covering all of Egypt, except for Goshen where the Jews lived.

“And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat the LORD (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.” (Exodus 9:27-28)

Egypt was dependent on their crops for their survival. Always before such a hailstorm had been limited to a small area, and few had been so intense as to destroy crops and livestock throughout the land. Pharaoh acknowledged that perhaps God did have power and authority greater than his own and that he and his people had been wrong in refusing to obey. Frequently such storms come in groups and he asked Moses to pray that there wouldn’t be any more. In return, he promised to allow them to go as they had requested.

“And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the Lord's. But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God.” (Exodus 9:29-30)

Moses was sure it was just another campaign promise to get what Pharaoh wanted, but he agreed to pray and get the storm ended, to further reinforce the fact that God was control. He knew that as soon as there was no longer a threat they would change their mind, probably insisting it was just a fluke of nature.

“And the flax and the barley was smitten: for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was bolled. But the wheat and the rie were not smitten: for they were not grown up.” (Exodus 9:31-32)

While most of the crops were not developed sufficiently to be seriously damaged, the barley was almost ready to be picked and the seed heads were shattered by the hail, scattering all the grain on the ground, making it impossible to recover. Modern day wheat farmers usually carry insurance against such damage. The flax was almost ready to harvest, and the stalks were brittle. The hail broke down the stalks, ruining the fibers they would have produced. It was a major blow to Egypt’s economy, and might require years for full recovery.

“And Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread abroad his hands unto the LORD: and the thunders and hail ceased, and the rain was not poured upon the earth. And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the LORD had spoken by Moses.” (Exodus 9:33-35)

Just as Moses had said, as soon as they felt safe, Pharaoh and his advisors again decided to break their promise. Sometimes it seems ridiculous that a ruler would be so stubborn, but things are really no different today. Governments in both Europe and the United States have persisted in seeking an end to the present crisis while refusing to address the underlying spiritual and moral issues that caused it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Increased Suffering Hardens Pharaoh’s Resolve

Exodus 9:1-12

Moses had gone to Pharaoh four times to request Israel be allowed to go out to worship God. Determined to demonstrate his control over them, Pharaoh refused each time. Twice he had promised to release them, then broken his word. Like rulers the world over, because of his position he was able to avoid much of the suffering of his people. Many people cling determinedly to their position, in an effort to avoid the perceived embarrassment of admitting they made a mistake. Such stubbornness is always costly, but each time Pharaoh became more determined to win.

“Then the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if thou refuse to let them go, and wilt hold them still, Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain. And the LORD shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children's of Israel.

And the LORD appointed a set time, saying, To morrow the LORD shall do this thing in the land. And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.” (Exodus 9:1-6)

God gave Pharaoh another chance to let Israel go, warning him that refusal would result in the Egyptian’s livestock dying while the Israelites cattle would remain safe. Like so many, Pharaoh viewed God’s forbearance as weakness and continued to refuse. Romans 2:4 warns of the consequences. “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;” Pharaoh’s stubbornness only increased the level of suffering fo himself and his people.

The Egyptian cattle did not develop a disease that slowly killed the herds, but died almost immediately, and unlike most livestock diseases, it was not limited to one or two species. The term Murrain used here refers only to a contagious and deadly disease. It must have been frightening to the people, wondering if the disease would spread to humans.

“And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.” (Exodus 9:7)

Government employees were sent out to report how much the food supply would be affected by the plague. What a surprise to learn it had been confined to the Egyptian cattle and nothing had been lost among the Israelites.

Millions died of the Black plague in Europe, but it was almost unknown in Jewish communities, largely as a result of their hygiene and sanitation efforts. The Jews were accused of having “witched” the other people and were often attacked and killed. Even today, people usually blame others for their problems and attempt to punish them. Pharaoh blamed the Jews and refused to allow them to go.

“And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 9:8-9)

Pharaoh had been warned what would happen if the people were not allowed to go, but refused to free them after the fact. God directed Moses to just take handfuls of ashes and throw them into the air where Pharaoh could see him. Those ashes would cause boils on every person or animal they touched. The boils would develop an infectious core which would swella dn burst spreading the infection to other areas.

“And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians. “ (Exodus 9:10-11)

As a teenager, I developed a boil on my shoulder. It was tremendously painful making it difficult to use my left arm. It also erupted staining my shirt with blood and yellow pus. I have no difficulty understanding why the Magicians could not stand before Moses. Both the pain and the embarrassment would be almost unbearable.

“And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.” (Exodus 9:12)

Used to always having his own way, Pharaoh resented being told he had to obey someone else. It is not surprising that the same term mad was used for being angry as for being crazy. When people allow their anger to control them, they often act as if they were insane, and totally without thought. They literally allow Satan to take control of their mind. As his resentment grew, Pharaoh became increasingly angry at Israel and Moses, and more determined not to yield to God, whatever the cost.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Upping The Ante

Exodus 8:16-32

Pharaoh had treated the river turning to blood as no big deal simply waiting for it all to wash away. He had been compelled to request Moses’ help in getting rid of the frogs, promising to allow the people to go worship God, but once they were gone he reneged on his promise. The pressure was off so he didn’t have to act, and God didn’t give him another warning.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 8:16-17)

Right after they were married at the start of the Depression, my granddad and grandma moved into a little one room house. After sweeping it out and setting th furniture in, Granddad went to start his new job while Grandma made the beds and put everything away. After a while she started a fire and started preparing supper. When she turned around she thought there must have been a bunch of dust fall from the ceiling as her pretty quilt was almost hidden by brown stuff, but as she looked she realized it was moving around. Looking closer she discovered the bed was almost completely covered with lice. They didn’t spend the night there!

Later they learned that a prior owner had used the house for a chicken house until it got infested with lice, and various intervening owners had moved out because of them. When Grandma started the fire and got the house warm the lice hatched. Granddad and Grandma wound up having to stay with his parents for a while until the lice could be exterminated. There weren’t any other houses available.

Apparently the invasion of the lice in Egypt was very much the same, with lice crawling on everything, biting and sucking blood from man and beast. It got people’s attention right away. For a people who had very high standards of Hygiene it must have been particularly distressing.

“And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 8:18-19)

Pharaoh wanted the magicians to imitate the miracle like they had the others, and discredit Moses and Aaron again, but they couldn’t do it, probably to their own relief. They tried to convince him that it was God’s doing, but Pharaoh refused to even to ask Moses to get rid of them, much less accede to God’s demands. He’d to show them.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are.” (Exodus 8:20-21)

Even before the Lice had been destroyed, Moses and Aaron met Pharaoh on his way to the river. They warned him about swarms of flies. It probably didn’t seem like much of a threat at the time, but after living near a city dump for a little while I can tell you that even flies that don’t bite can be a real nuisance. Some flies like our local deer fly inflict bites at least as painful as a wasp sting, and even cows will flee from the area and avoid returning. Cows are not very sensitive to pain, and people quickly learn to avoid the places cows don’t go. It was not an idle threat.

“And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be.” (Exodus 8:22-23)

To make it clear the Lord’s displeasure was directed against Egypt, God would ensure that the flies did not migrate to Goshen where Israel lived. To further reinforce the fact that it was done by God, the flies would arrive the following day.

“And the LORD did so; and there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants' houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies.” (Exodus 8:24)

It is pretty disgusting having flies crawl on everything laying eggs, but having maggots develop in wounds, animal’s eye sockets and body orifices or in food products within a matter of hours is even worse. Unchecked, we are told that the progeny of a single pair of flies would completely bury Texas several inches deep in a single summer. Even Pharaoh could not completely escape them.

“And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land.” (Exodus 8:25)

Unwilling to give all they asked, Pharaoh offered a compromise, that they could offer their sacrifices in the local area, perhaps a local park, but that they couldn’t leave the area or take more than a few hours off.

“And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as he shall command us.” (Exodus 8:26-27)

Moses replied that the worship of God would entail rituals that the Egyptians might find offensive and result in their being attacked. In any case they were sacred to the Jews and should not be subject to scrutiny and derision..

“And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: entreat for me.” (Exodus 8:28)

Pharaoh agreed to allow them to go far enough they would not be closely observed if they would get rid of the flies, but he still would not allow them to act freely.

“And Moses said, Behold, I go out from thee, and I will entreat the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, to morrow: but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” (Exodus 8:29)

Moses agreed to ask the Lord to take away the flies, but warned Pharaoh he better not break his promise again.

“And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and entreated the LORD. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one. And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.” (Exodus 8:30-32)

Pharaoh had only promised to convince Moses to get rid of the flies, he had no intention of letting them go. As soon as the flies were gone, he broke the promise, believing he wouldn’t be held to it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Frogs In The Kitchen

Exodus 8:1-15

The sign of the stick turning to a snake had established Moses and Aaron’s power as superior to that of Pharaoh’s magicians, but it had little physical impact on anyone. The turning the water to blood impacted everyone, but they were familiar with techniques that enabled them to minimize the effects, as if it were just another flood like they were used to. While inconvenient, it really didn’t affect them very much.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneadingtroughs: And the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.” (Exodus 8:1-4)

Since Egyptian culture revolved around the river. God would use it again, but they had never been inundated with frogs. Living along the river with abundant water the Egyptians maintained a very high standard of cleanliness. They despised those from drier areas as dirty because they had trouble maintaining such a standard of sanitation. The frogs would mess up the whole system. Pharaoh couldn’t conceive the effects and refused to allow them to go, and besides that no one could make frogs.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 8:5-6)

When the frogs began to come out of the river, in vast quantities, Pharaoh was shocked by the invasion, but called his magicians to see if they could do the same thing. Apparently God had caused the frogs to lay a lot of eggs that had hatched and matured enough to come out when Aaron stretched out his rod over the water.

“And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Entreat the LORD, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD.” (Exodus 8:7-8)

A second batch of frogs crawled out when they did whatever they did, so Pharaoh concluded it wasn’t anything special and sent Moses and Aaron away. A day or so later, Pharaoh and his people were really getting upset by the unsanitary conditions the frogs were causing and he called Moses and Aaron back to get rid of them, because they didn’t know how to deal with the situation and his magicians had no answers.

“And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Glory over me: when shall I entreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, to destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses, that they may remain in the river only?” (Exodus 8:9)

The Hebrew word translated “glory” here means to boast about or to give credit to someone. Moses is simply asking Pharaoh to acknowledge that the Egyptians couldn’t solve the problem without his help. Moses asked when he wanted it done, and Pharaoh postponed it until the next day, hoping the frogs would disappear and he wouldn’t have to give Moses or God the credit. I imagine the people would have preferred it that day.

“And he said, To morrow. And he said, Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the LORD our God. And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only.

And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the LORD because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields. And they gathered them together upon heaps: and the land stank.” (Exodus 8:10-14)

When Moses prayed, the frogs all died. The people spent hours gathering up the dead frogs and piling them in huge piles where they began to rot,. The stench would last for weeks.

“But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 8:15)

A person who gets in trouble for drinking or using drugs may temporarily stop to get out of trouble or a government may cut taxes to stimulate economic recovery, then resume what they were doing that caused the problem in the first place. Pharaoh responded the same way, promptly forgetting his promise when the pressure eased. This hardening of the heart or refusing to take the lesson to heart is far more common than we usually realize.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The First Major Case Of Water Pollution

Exodus 7:14-25

The illusion his magicians performed was enough like the miracle Aaron had done that Pharaoh could convince himself it was nothing more than a more complex version of what the magicians had done. He became more determined to teach them who was the boss. People who want to believe something can nearly always convince themselves.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh's heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go. Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river's brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand. And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.

Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water of the river.” (Exodus 7:14-18)

God allowed Pharaoh to think about the miracle over night, giving him a chance to change his mind before proceeding. The Nile river was the basis of Egypt’s greatness, providing water to drink and for irrigation, fish for food, rich alluvial soil and easy transportation. It was the major power in Egypt and was venerated as such. Much of Pharaoh’s power was derived from the government programs to prevent flooding and develop irrigation. That he could control such forces led to his being viewed as more than just an ordinary man.

The second miracle was to demonstrate that God had more power over the river than Pharaoh. The entire land depended on the river. By making it unusable, not only Pharaoh, but the entire population would become aware of God’s power over the biggest forces in their lives. They would lose both food and water when it turned to blood.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 7:19-21)

When Aaron stretched out his hand over the water it turned to blood. It was not like an overflow of blood from a meat processing plant polluting the river, where the water mixed with the blood, but a literal stream of blood, making the water as viscous as it would be at the height of flood season. The fish died for lack of oxygen and since blood begins to decay very soon, it wasn’t long before the stench of decaying blood and fish filled the air.

“And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.” (Exodus 7:22-23)

The Magicians were able to produce an illusion similar to the blood, probably by dumping some dye into a bowl of water. Because it appeared similar, Pharaoh ignored the differences in scale and impact. Like many who have no personal experience, he had no concept of the logistics of simply dyeing the entire river. What is easy in a small container may well be nearly impossible on a large scale, even if Moses had used the same mechanism.

“And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river. And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river.” (Exodus 7:24-25)

Digging holes alongside the river allowed water to seep in, filtering out the blood and most of the contaminates. It was probably a technique the Egyptians had learned from the annual flooding. It took seven days for the influx of water from upstream to wash away all the polluted water. Pharaoh had other people to get his water for him and was somewhat isolated from the effects. What was a disaster for his people was only a minor inconvenience for him. Like most politicians and bureaucrats of today, he could focus on consolidating his power and ignore the effects of his decisions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Laying a Foundation

Exodus 6:28-7:13

Moses had originally set out to straighten things between Israel and Egypt in his own power. When that didn’t work and the Israelites didn’t appreciate his efforts, he had fled to Midian for safety and stayed forty years, returning only at God’s direction. Upon his return he had approached the people with God’s direction to gain their support. When he went to Pharaoh to request permission to just worship God it was refused and the oppression increased, turning the people against him.

“And it came to pass on the day when the LORD spake unto Moses in the land of Egypt, That the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, I am the LORD: speak thou unto Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say unto thee.

And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?” (Exodus 6:28-30)

Most of us have a sense of familiarity when we hear names like Barak Obama, or George Bush, or Bill Clinton. We have heard their names and are familiar with their position abn at least some of their beliefs. How many of us have been disappointed after they were elected to find that we didn’t really know them at all? All we really knew was the person portrayed by media reporting, and not the person at all. All too often our knowledge of God is equally superficial, based solely on some pastor or other persons statements about him. No matter how good or bad that portrayal may be it is based on some one else’s understanding, not our own.

Though Moses had been commissioned by God, he still had a superficial picture of what God was like and how he would work. Our picture of God is often based on what we know about ourselves and others, rather than on God himself. Like Moses we have to learn that as God said in Isaiah 55:8-9, “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Moses still thought that an eloquent and persuasive speech, or recognition of his religious authority would be what convinced Pharaoh to listen to him. He did not yet understand that “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing,” as Jesus said in John 6:63.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.” (Exodus 7:1-2)

Pharaoh did not know God. He was viewed and treated as a god by his people. In his own mind, he was the ultimate power, able to manipulate other forces. God would establish Moses as having similar power in Pharaoh’s mind. To promote that illusion, Moses would direct but Aaron would take the actions and do the speaking. In this manner, Pharaoh would begin to understand the concept of a true God, rather than just a superior man.

“And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:3)

In order for the Egyptians to understand that Pharaoh was not truly a god, it would be necessary for him to be decisively defeated. Most people will yield after a while concluding that it is not worth the effort required to win. By doing so they preserve the idea that they could have won if they wanted to. To prevent that, God would strengthen Pharaoh’s determination, making him too stubborn to quit. Before it was done, the Egyptians would know that Pharaoh was not in the same league with God.

“And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they. And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.” (Exodus 7:6-7)

Pharaoh had contacts who were responsible for communication with the Jews. Moses and Aaron were not among them. Two relatively unknown old men in their eighties approach him again on behalf of the entire nation, saying God sent them. It is not hard to understand why he didn’t consider them of much importance. He’d never even seen Moses in the meetings before.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Show a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.

And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.” (Exodus 7:8-10)

As a sign to Pharaoh that this was from God. Aaron would use his walking stick to repeat the miracle that had happened when Moses cast his staff on the ground at Mt Sinai. When he threw it on the ground, it became a snake.

“Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 7:11-13)

The snake was an important religious figure in Egypt. To demonstrate their power and awe the people, the priests had developed methods of handling them. We are told that one trick they used was to hypnotize the snake so it became rigid and could easily be carried. It appears that this is what the wise men did in this case. When thrown on the ground the trance was broken and the snakes began to move around.

Aaron had used and actual walking stick, whereas the magicians used a hypnotized snake, but the appearance was very similar, and Pharaoh chose to believe it was the same, even when Aarons snake ate all the others, then turned back into a stick without having to be hypnotized again. Though Pharaoh discounted the miracle, it clearly established Aaron as being as powerful as his priests and Magicians. It was a first step in reaching the Egyptians. That the snake was one of their religious symbols further enhanced his standing.

People pay little attention to those they think have nothing to offer. This miracle had established that he might have something to offer. The Christian’s life serves a similar purpose before the world. If his testimony does not imply anything of value, there is no reason to listen to what he says. The seemingly pointless meetings lay the foundation for hearing the gospel. Christians have no right to expect people to listen until they have assurance there is something to hear. Only a few first time contacts provide a valid opportunity to witness verbally.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Who Are Moses And Aaron?

Exodus 6:14-26

God had chosen Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Because of Moses’ fear they wouldn’t listen, God assigned Aaron to be his spokesperson. Now God directed the author to describe Moses’ genealogy so we can know who he is. Most of the time our focus is on Jesus Christ and most of the genealogies address his lineage, to show that he is of the family of Judah, demonstrating his qualifications to be the Messiah, first prophesied by Jacob in Genesis 49:8-12.

Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her sister Leah instead. Later he married Rachel as well, jealousy between them resulted in his tsaking their maids as wives also, compounding the problems. Here we get a brief look at some of Leah’s descendants. That God chose Moses and identifies him so clearly seems especially significant.

“These be the heads of their fathers' houses: The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel; Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi: these be the families of Reuben.” (Exodus 6:14)

As the oldest of Jacob’s sons, Reuben should have been the most favored, and would have seemed the most likely leader, but as a result of the constant turmoil he developed a lack of stability, committing incest with Bilhah, one of Jacob’s wives. His descendants tended to follow his example.

“And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman: these are the families of Simeon.” (Exodus 6:15)

Simeon was Leah and Jacob’s second son. He and his younger brother, Levi both were inclined to let their anger take over, with the result that they murdered the men of Shechem over Hamor’s perceived wrong to their sister Dinah.

“And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years. The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families. And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years. And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations.” (Exodus 6:16-19)

Jacob had strongly condemned Simeon and Levi for their murders of the men of Shechem, instructing that they were not to be allowed to get together as they would egg each other on. Levi’s three sons would later become responsible for the care of the tabernacle and leading the worship of God. Each family would have specific responsibilities.

“And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years. And the sons of Izhar; Korah, and Nepheg, and Zichri. And the sons of Uzziel; Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Zithri.” (Exodus 6:20-22)

Levi’s son Kohath had a son named Amram, who married one of Kohath’s younger sisters, Jochebed. Moses and Aaron were their sons, making them descendants of Levi on both sides of the family. One of Moses and Aaron’s cousins was Korah, a man who would later cause a lot of trouble, having an attitude similar to that of his great grandfather Levi.

Hebrews 7 stresses the importance that the lineages of Moses and Aaron are from the tribe of Levi while Christ came from the tribe of Judah and that there was no overlap to demonstrate that Christianity is not an extension of the Jewish religion. As Paul describes it, the old Testament religion served as a scaffold or temporary platform for building Christianity. It was never intended as the final structure.

Moses was not chosen from Reuben’s family, from Judah’s, or from Joseph or Benjamin’s. He was chosen from a family with a record of cruelty and self will. It clearly indicates that while family background has a great deal of impact on our lives, God can and will use anyone who is willing to obey him.

“And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.” (Exodus 6:23)

Aaron had four sons. Later, in Leviticus 10:1-2 and Numbers 3:2-4, Nadab and Abihu were killed because they ignored God’s command in fulfilling the priest’s duties. Being of Aaron’s family was not enough to save them.

“And the sons of Korah; Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph: these are the families of the Korhites.” (Exodus 6:24)

Moses and Aaron’s cousin Korah would be killed in Numbers 16, because he decided he had the right to do as he wished. His entire family died as well.

“And Eleazar Aaron's son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families.” (Exodus 6:25)

God had told Abraham that his descendants would be in Egypt four hundred years. Genesis 15:16 concludes, “But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Kohath was one of those who had gone to Egypt with Jacob. They would go out of Egypt in his great great grandson Phineas’s lifetime, four generations later, again proving that it was God who made the promise.

“These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies. These are they which spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron.” (Exodus 6:26-27)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Reaction to Increased Persecution

Exodus 5:22-6:9

Moses was concerned that perhaps he had caused more harm when he saw the impact on the people. Great leaders are aware of the pain their actions may cause. Selfish leaders are concerned only with accomplishing their goals. Years of herding sheep had taught Moses the need for considering the fears and needs of his flock. When he had first tried to help them forty years before, he was too impatient to make changes to consider the effects of his actions.

“And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.” (Exodus 5:22-23)

Though God had warned Moses “…but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go,” in Exodus 4:21, Moses had not expected what happened. Israel hadn’t been delivered and their situation had gotten worse rather than better. God knew exactly what he was doing. Israel would not be willing to leave the safety of Egypt and trust God until it became unbearable to stay. People tend to stick with the familiar in an attempt to avoid pain until forced to accept change.

“Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.” ((Exodus 6:1)

For four hundred years, Israel had lived in Egypt, depending on the Egyptian system for their survival. Like most Christians today, they had never been conscious that it was God who provided their daily needs, making the crops grow and preventing the Egyptians from killing them. God would use Pharaoh’s rebellion to show Israel his power and develop trust. He would cause Pharaoh to drive them out so they would have no choice but to trust Him.

“And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant.” (Exodus 6:2-5)

Seeing Moses distress, God revealed himself to Moses in a way he had not even revealed himself to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had never known him by the name Jehovah, yet God had established a covenant with them, beginning in Genesis 12, more than six hundred fifty years before. Genesis 15:6 tells us Abram “…believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Clearly knowing the name Jehovah is not essential to be saved or to serve God, as some teach.

“Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:6-7)

The covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been passed down to his heirs, and God reminded Moses that he hadn’t forgotten it either. He was even more aware of their suffering than Moses. It is easy for us to feel that he isn’t aware of what we are experiencing, or that he doesn’t really care. He was going to fulfill his promise, although things would get worse for a while. The things that happened would convince them of God’s power and love for them.

“And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.” (Exodus 6:8)

Eventually they would claim the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for their own, because God never breaks his promise. As Titus 1:2 tells us, God cannot lie, and he doesn’t change, according to Malachi 3:6.

“And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.” (Exodus 6:9)

While Moses was reassured by God’s promise, the people were not. They were unable or unwilling to look beyond their misery to trust God.. Many times we try to advise people but their focus on their problems prevents seeing what is available. That will only change as God reveals his power to them. We cannot force it.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?” (Exodus 6:10-12)

When Israel refused to listen to what God had told him Moses was really discouraged. Why would Pharaoh listen to someone with no great religious standings when they said God said? He wouldn’t even be coming as the religious leader of the Jews, or having any formal recognition from some other organization. In today’s terms, he had not been ordained and had no doctorate to prove his qualifications. He had no evidence saying he was dedicated to God. God commanded them to go anyway.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 6:13)

Friday, January 13, 2012

It Got Worse

Genesis 5:1-23

“And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 5:1)

After sharing his position and getting the support of the Israelite leaders, Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh requesting permission to go into the wilderness to worship their God.

“And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

In Abraham’s day the Pharaoh had known the Lord. Six hundred fifty years later, the Pharaoh in Moses’ day did not know the Lord. In fact the religion of Egypt had changed to the point the Pharaoh himself was worshipped as a God. The entire religion and government centered on him. In his arrogance he no longer considered any God beyond himself.

“And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the LORD our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.” (Exodus 5:3)

Israel had not worshipped God freely for most of the time they had been in Egypt. They were only requesting permission to worship their God and thus turn away his wrath for their unfaithfulness.

“And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.

And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves. And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God. Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.” (Exodus 5:4-9)

By granting their request, Pharaoh believed he would be acknowledging that some God had more authority than he did. Determined to teach them a lesson, he decided to increase the burden on them. Totalitarian regimes throughout history have become more repressive and cruel at any suggestion that they should grant a little freedom.

“And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw. Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.

So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.” (Exodus 5:10-13)

Pharaoh’s command gives us a very strong evidence both of the historical accuracy of the book and of the dates involved. In the first part of the Middle Kingdom public works were built out of quarried stone. Later, high quality brick was used and remains of these structures are still common today. After about 1660 BC, the quality of materials used in brick making deteriorated dramatically, replacing straw with trash for reinforcement. Few ruins from that period exist today. Unfortunately, most historians have Accepted Ussher’s chronology and ignored this record.

“And the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to day, as heretofore? Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants? There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us, Make brick: and, behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people.” (Exodus 5:14-16)

Stunned by the increased demands and stiffened penalties for failure, the Hebrew leaders appealed to Pharaoh for relief, insisting they would not be able to maintain the production and quality under the new rules.

“But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the LORD. Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.” (Exodus 5:17-18)

Unfortunately most policy makers have been chosen from people who have little or no contact with the people doing the actual job. As a result, they begin to place unreasonable demands on the people they depend on, and cannot understand that it is impossible to meet the demands without sacrificing something else. Pharaoh had never had to make bricks and had no real understanding of what was required. Egypt had been in an economic decline for many years, and here was an austerity measure he could take without cutting public programs. Placing the burden on the Hebrews would not cause much unrest among the Egyptians.

“And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task. And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh: And they said unto them, The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.” (Exodus 5:19-21)

If dropped into hot water, a frog immediately jumps out, but if placed in cold water and the temperature is raised gradually, he may sit there until he is cooked. For four hundred years the persecution of the Israelites had been steadily increasing, finally reaching the point where their children were being murdered and they had not time for themselves at all. Though they were troubled and griped about their situation, they had accepted it.

When Moses came and presented the possibility of escape, they were excited about the possibility. When they began to take steps to change the situation, and experienced resistance they began to blame Moses, rather than the Egyptians.

Over the years I have seen numerous people in abusive situations seek the Lord because it was almost unbearable, yet when changes they were making in their own lives caused conflict with the abusers, they blamed it on what I was teaching them and walked away. Invariably, the abuse became even worse, because the abuser was more convinced they would continue to put up with it. We often overlook this tendency in our efforts to help people. No one enjoys the pain, but many as fitness trainers tell us “no pain, no gain.” Unfortunately pain does not necessarily indicate progress. It may indicate that more harm has been done. Moses was upset by the people’s reaction.

“And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.” (Exodus 5:22-23)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Returning To Egypt

Exodus 4:18-31

After forty years herding sheep, Moses had lost the arrogance he‘d once had, developing a realistic understanding of his own abilities and limitations. He had never lost his concern for his people, but was no longer willing to take foolish or unproductive actions such as killing a minor bully. With God’s assurance and support, he had the possibility of success.

“And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace.” (Exodus 4:18)

After his encounter with the angel of God, Moses’ desire to meet with his family and relatives was renewed. Unlike Jacob, he had a good relationship with his father-in-law, and there was no sense of need for deceit, because he had developed a strong relationship with God, resulting in an openness Jacob never had.

“And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.” (Exodus 4:19-20)

Not only the old pharaoh, but all the officers who remembered Moses’ crime had died in the intervening years, and God assured him he would face no threat on that account. With that assurance, Moses took his family and returned to Egypt. He did not take a large herd of cattle or numerous servants with him. He did carry the walking stick God had transformed into a snake.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.” (Exodus 4:21-23)

God had shown the three miracles to Moses to persuade the Hebrews that God had sent Moses. Now God instructed him to show the same three miracles to Pharaoh, but warned him he would not listen and would refuse to grant their initial request. Because he refused to listen, God would harden his heart, enabling him to ignore the plight of other people in his own self will. It is that hardened heart that enables our own politicians to ignore the effects of their policies on the people.

If Pharaoh stubbornly continued to refuse to allow God’s people to go, killing them to prevent their escape, even at the risk of destroying his own people, God would kill Pharaoh’s own son and heir.

“And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

God had specified that male circumcision was the one requirement to participate in God’s blessings in Genesis 17:10-14. “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”

Any person who refused circumcision, whether of Jewish descent or not, was to be counted as not Jewish and forbidden to participate in the Jewish rituals. It was the indication they took god’s promises seriously. Moses had not fulfilled the covenant by having his children circumcised, and God threatened him with death for his failure. His wife circumcised their son with a sharp stone to save his life, feeling the action was unnecessarily cruel.

Baptism serves much the same purpose in Christian life. Like the circumcision being baptized indicates how seriously we take God’s promises and commands. If we don’t take them seriously enough to be baptized we ought not participate in the communion or be considered part of the church.

“And the LORD said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him, and all the signs which he had commanded him.” (Exodus 4:27-28)

Though there had been no communication between them, God sent Aaron to meet Moses, where Moses described his mission and God’s directions, enlisting his help as spokesperson.

“And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.” (Exodus 4:29-31)

Together they went to the tribal leaders, where Aaron shared what Moses had told him and they performed the signs god had given Moses. Convinced that it was of God, in humility the people worshipped God for caring about them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Authorized By God

Exodus 4:1-17

Forty years before, Moses had attempted to produce changes in Israel’s state by killing an Egyptian overseer. His efforts were viewed as the efforts of a gang leader or crime boss trying to take over a neighborhood, rather than a legitimate effort to help, and were rejected.

“And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.” (Exodus 4:1)

Moses had lost the arrogance that he had as a prince of Egypt. He was aware people might see his approach as just another attempt to take over. They were likely to want some assurance that his intentions were legitimate and had some possibility of actually improving things. Too many political leaders set out to accomplish a goal with no clue as to what will be required, and people begin to distrust them.

“And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod.

And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand: That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.” (Exodus 4:2-5)

God performed a miracle, changing Moses walking stick into a snake when he threw it on the ground. When he picked it up by the tail it changed back into a stick. Since only God could do this, it would indicate that God had directed Moses. Since the walking stick had been used by Moses for some time there was no question of trickery.

“And the LORD said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow. And he said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.” (Exodus 4:6-8)

Leprosy is not common in the United States, but it was common in that area of the world until just a few years ago. My understanding is that it destroys the nerve endings so the body does not respond naturally to stimuli. In the process, the blood flow and pigmentation are reduced making the skin appear unnaturally white. It was a progressive disease, spreading from one part of the body to another, and there was no cure for the disease, although spontaneous remissions did occasionally occur. Normally it was first identified as just a small white spot and Leviticus 13 gave specific instructions for identifying it.

When Moses placed his hand in his robe and pulled it out white, it clearly indicated an advanced case of a familiar disease. When he put his hand back into his shirt and pulled it out again it was normal. Clearly this was a miraculous sign that would convince many of th people, but some might well consider it some kind of trick.

“And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.” (Exodus 4:9)

For those who still didn’t believe, Moses was to take some water from the river and pour it out on the ground. It would become blood on the ground that they could touch and smell. Since they usually butchered their own meat, they would be able to tell the difference between real blood and colored water by the way it coagulated, by the smell, and by the viscosity. It would be very hard to fool these people with a fake blood in such a situation.

“And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

Like many others, Moses was concerned that he would not be persuasive enough because he was not an eloquent speaker or quick witted. Many people think that because a person can’t give a quick response off the cuff he doesn’t know what he is talking about. In fact, the quick response is frequently based on a superficial understanding of what is involved. Winning a debate does not make one right.

“And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)

God made the mouth, God made the brain that directs the mouth, and he can direct the thoughts of that mind. He chooses whether we could speak of hear or see, and he decides what needs to be said. The results are not about human logic or psychology or eloquence, but about God’s message. Far too much emphasis is put on the human part rather than on God’s.

“And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.

“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.” (Exodus 4:13-17)

Not convinced that he was qualified, and not trusting God, Moses still hesitated, asking God to send some one else instead. His lack of faith angered God, but rather than destroying him for it, God gave him what he asked, sending his brother Aaron to do the talking. Aaron would always have to depend on Moses to tell him what God wanted, never having the same relationship himself, but just being Moses’ mouthpiece.

My own father was initially told he shouldn’t become a missionary because he was too old, had too many kids, and didn’t have a good enough education. He did have difficulty raising support, but was responsible for starting more churches among the Navajos than most of the missionaries who’ve tried. Many times we choose men on the basis of education or speaking ability or sophistication and discourage the men God has chosen.

Later Aaron would, acting independently of Moses, just going along with what the people wanted, in direct contradiction to God’s command. Today we see the same thing in many churches, with the emphasis on what the people or the pastor want rather than what God has said. It is why the instructions as to who should be chosen as pastors and leaders in first Timothy 3 and Titus 1are so critical today.