Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Exodus 4:24-26

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

The first lesson in leadership from Moses showed us that sometimes we must overcome our fears to lead. Oddly enough, almost immediately after that, God reveals to leaders the necessity of maintaining a proper fear. 

Undoubtedly Moses' fears of returning to Egypt lingered when he asked Jethro's permission to go back to visit his people in 4:18. Moses' request derived from custom and courtesy:
1. The custom of respecting elders by seeking their permission.
2. The courtesy of posing the question in such a way to Jethro so as not to alarm him of the dangerous task Moses was about to undertake.

It is Moses' sense of courtesy that accentuates his sense of concern. The task in front of Moses was still not lost on him: he was soon to confront the most powerful man in the world at that time. I sincerely doubt Moses felt confident at all; he was still very much afraid.

Exodus 4:24-26 exists, in part, as God's response to Moses' lingering fear. Doesn't it seem odd to you that the Lord sets out to kill Moses as he prepares to enter Egypt? How ought we to reconcile this text?

I imagine that Moses dealt with restless nights between the moment of the burning bush to his encampment on the outskirts of Egypt. If he was anything like me, he tossed and turned contemplating what lay in front of him. Yet, God showed up with a stark reminder. Who should Moses fear more, Pharaoh or the Lord? 

Moses had failed to circumcise his son in accordance with the covenant God made with Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:12-14). Which son had not been circumcised, whether it was the elder Gershom or the younger Eliezer (cf. Ex. 4:20; 18:2-4), is subject to debate. What is not debatable is that the Lord chooses this moment to teach Moses an inescapable object lesson.

Think about it. Moses is fretful about confronting the Pharaoh. On the cusp of this great responsibility, God demonstrates the greater cost of disobeying Him. It's almost as if the Lord is saying to Moses: "Are you still afraid of Pharaoh? I can take you out in the blink of an eye. Fear Me, not man."

The main lesson from the passage should thus serve as a reminder to God's leaders of whom we should fear. 

Am I worried about appeasing the whims of people, or am I concerned about the will of Christ? Am I driven by worldly accolades and affirmation, or am I dedicated to the advancement of Christ's name and kingdom? Do I fear more my standing in this world or my standing in the world yet to come? 

I suppose whom I fear boils down to where I place my faith: on that which is temporal or on that which is eternal. In fact, this may be precisely why Jesus declares, "Don't be afraid of people. They can kill you, but they cannot harm your soul. Instead, you should fear God who can destroy both your body and your soul in hell" (Matt. 10:28, CEV). 

Sure, Jesus is talking about salvation matters. To stand before the Father one day, we must have stood with Jesus in this day. But I certainly think His teaching has relevance for those called to places of leadership in His name. Let me never fear Pharaohs; let me only fear disobeying the Lord. 


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

How might God be teaching us today that obedience to Him takes precedence over other concerns of this world:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "All that was required of Moses was that he do what he had been told to do, which is another way of saying that it was up to the Lord to perform the work (3:8) and that He would do so in His own way (cf. Judges 7:7), with Moses fitting into the divine scheme as instructed. Hence, the reminder to perform ... all the wonders (4:21). Did it seem pathetically silly to Moses to face the world's superpower by throwing down a staff, displaying and curing a leprous hand and turning water into blood? His was not to reason why! The Lord always gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). What were earlier called signs are here wonders, striking indications that a different power was at work, and Moses must publicly side with that power in a life of simply obeying" (Motyer).

from runner-up to Best Academic Commentary - "But if Moses was to carry out the divine commission with success, he must first of all prove himself to be a faithful servant of Jehovah in his own house" (Keil and Delitzsch).
     To carry over this principle into the New Testament, leaders ought to read and keep in mind 1 Timothy 3:5.

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "As strange as this experience may sound, it reveals the one true way of salvation. Every human being is a sinner who stands under the wrath of God. Like Moses, we have failed to keep God's law and thus are subject to God's curse against our sin. The only way to be saved from eternal death is for God's wrath to be turned aside, which can only be done through an act of blood (cf. Heb. 9:22). This is exactly what Jesus provided on the cross: a perfect sacrifice for sin, offered through the shedding of His own blood" (Ryken).

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Exodus 3:7-4:18

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

The life of Moses teaches us several lessons about leadership. In the next several posts, I invite you to reflect on a few such lessons. 

God calls Moses to lead in Exodus 3:7-10. Moses, however, is resistant to respond. Five times, Moses essentially says, "But God." He is coming up with excuses not to heed Yahweh's call to return to Egypt as the deliverer of the Hebrew nation (3:11, 3:13, 4:1, 4:10, 4:13). 

Moses is reluctant to lead because Moses is afraid. 

On one level, Moses fears his past. He had fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. There was a significant failure in his younger years. What if people remembered or learned about what he had done?

More notably, Moses knew the magnitude of the task. Having been raised as a Prince of Egypt, he recognized the power of Pharaoh. He had tried to make a difference as a young man. To return as an older man to face the mightiest force in the world with just a staff in his hand and Yahweh's name on his lips was freaky scary. 

Still, the first way that Moses models biblical leadership is that he faced his fears to lead. Moses would ultimately return to the land of Egypt to deliver his people from a physical bondage (4:18). 

Christ Jesus embodies this principle of leadership. No, Jesus did not have any past failures that would have concerned Him. Jesus, after all, never sinned (cf. 1 Peter 2:22-24). But He did face a freaky scary task. 

Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Father would take away the cup of suffering that awaited Him. He sweat drops of blood knowing the magnitude of the cross. Christ faced death, the grave, and Satan and his minions, but He uttered: "Not My will, but Yours (Father), be done" (Luke 22:41-44). 

Christ in His full humanity faced His fears to lead. Jesus traversed the hill of Calvary to deliver His people from a spiritual bondage. 

The lesson to learn is never to let fear defeat you: 
1. Do not let your past failures cripple you (we, like Moses, all have significant failings). 
2. Do not let a difficult calling deter you (we, like Moses, may sometimes seek to recoil from a freaky scary task). 

Remember that when God is calling you to something, He will give you the strength to accomplish it. Indeed, if God is for us, who or what - be it a Pharaoh or the devil himself - can stand against us! (cf. Romans 8:31-39)


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

What fears do you need to overcome in order to take a step of obedience to lead in some way for Christ and His Church:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "All the way through chapters three and four the Lord has done far more talking than Moses, which suggests the genuineness of Moses' negative feelings about himself - he was very far from 'protesting too much'! The simple statements of inadequacy (3:11), inability (3:13), ineffectiveness (4:1), incompetence (4:10) and grudging submission (4:13) were enough. To Moses they were self-evident, even axiomatic, but in each case the Lord gave a lengthy and detailed reply" (Motyer).

from Best Academic Commentary - "God's reply (v. 12) contains two key elements: a promise of help and guidance ('I will be with you') and a fulfillment sign. For God to 'be with' someone means that He provides that person direct, special help and guidance that, in turn, can cause people to recognize that person's worth and/or authority in given situations. A fulfillment sign is a confirmation that a prophet or leader has completed a key part of a task assigned him by God. The fulfillment sign for Moses' call was a successful exodus followed by arrival at Mount Sinai and worship there by all the people ('you will worship' is plural). This is significant because it is not merely measurable by the movement of the people from one place to another but also by their movement from one faith to another. They would get to Sinai, but more importantly they would get to saving belief in the only true and living God. Fulfillment signs require faith since they promise proof to follow after an interval of time rather than immediately; in doing so they encourage faith. This one is no exception. It would be fulfilled three months after the start of the exodus (Ex. 19:1) but would continue to provide its retrospective reassurance for forty more years" (Stuart).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "So Moses went back to Egypt. After all his questions and objections, after all his doubts and hesitations, and even after his outright refusal to go, the prophet answered God's call. His self-imposed exile was over" (Ryken).
     The commentator is also correct to point out: "But for all the similarities between these two men, there are some crucial ways that Jesus is not like Moses. One of the most obvious is that He was ready and willing to do God's will. He said to His Father, 'Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God' (Hebrews 10:7). True, Jesus agonized over the pains of the cross, but He did not refuse to endure them. He said to His Father, 'Your will be done' (Matthew 26:42). And then He went out and freely offered His life for our salvation. He did not say, 'Send someone else,' for He knew that there was no one else! He and He alone could make perfect atonement for our sins" (Ryken).

Monday, January 7, 2019

Exodus 7:14-18, Exodus 12:1-13

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

As I continue to offer a few reflections through Exodus, I will not go sequentially. In fact, my entry today was not even planned. 

I was called on Sunday morning at the last minute to teach a class over texts for which I had not prepared a lesson (not something I recommend). Still, what the Lord laid upon my heart as I shared to the class was clearly something He intended for me. Perhaps He will speak a word to you from these reflections, too. 

You could do a personal study to discover how each plague upon Egypt actually exposed a false god that the Egyptians worshipped. Each plague intended to open Pharaoh's heart and mind to the reality of the one true God. Only the text continues to present a back and forth, if you will. We read at times that Pharaoh hardened his heart; other times we read God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Which is it?

Somehow I believe it is both/and. Scripture does not neatly tidy up the tension for us, but I believe that when people harden their hearts they run the risk of God giving them over to the hardness of their hearts (cf. Psalm 95:6-11; Heb. 3:12-15). 

Exodus 7 begins the Lord's plagues upon Egypt. This first plague combatted Hapi (the Egyptian God of the Nile), and it involves blood that leads to death.

In Exodus 12, which presents the tenth and final plague against Amun-Ra (the most powerful God in ancient Egypt), we are introduced to blood that leads to life. The angel of death will pass over those who place the blood of the lamb over the doorpost of their home. 

Allow me to diverge here for just a moment. Reading Exodus 12:3-6 suggests to me that the lamb to be slain would have been the family's lamb. Anyone who has children knows that it does not take long for them to form an attachment with an animal. We just got a fish tank, for instance, and my sons immediately named the fish in it and get excited watching them swim around. 

The sacrifice of the lamb at Passover would thus prove costly and personal. This was but a prelude to the most costly and personal sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29).

The main lesson seems abundantly clear to me. Following after false gods leads to death. Trusting in the true God and the costly, personal sacrifice of Christ leads to life. I must ask you, are you covered by the Lamb's blood?  

Yes, I pray this would be a message that non-believers would hear and one to which they would not harden their hearts. But my reflection on these texts extends to me as a believer as well. 

How often do I follow after false gods that lead to death in my spirit (or the spirit of others, such as my children)? You can put a number of things in the blank - money, power, success, stuff, popularity, and so on.

I think for Pharaoh it was his sense of personal pride and desire for control. Even when he apparently let God's people go, he could not actually let them go. He would chase after them to his ultimate demise. 

I have trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior. His blood covers me and secures my eternal salvation. 

But I still get caught up with false gods that lead to a sense of death. I seek affirmation from men and women, and I want everything to fall within my sense of orderliness. Amid it all, I lack patience, and I lack gentleness. 

In 2019, I need to surrender my false gods, which have the power to destroy me, my family, my witness, etc. I need to lay them down under the life-giving blood of Jesus. Just the other day, in dealing with my oldest son in a totally inappropriate manner, God exposed "false gods" in my life and how deathly they can so easily become.

My prayer: "Holy Spirit, turn me from the false gods that lead to death. Cover me with and renew me by the life-giving blood of my Savior, Jesus Christ. And, by Your grace God my Father, forever keep the Lamb's life-giving blood over the doorposts of my home."


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

What false god(s) do you need to surrender to the life-giving blood of Christ?

_____________________________________________________.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Exodus 2:11-3:4

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

The Lord somehow preserves our individual choices while at the same time molds our personalities to accomplish His sovereign will. It is a mystery, but a mystery that certainly plays itself out within the pages of Scripture. We see it throughout Moses' life. 

Notice in 2:11-12 that Moses decided in this moment and of his own accord to act as a deliverer for God's people. (Who among us have not often thought to take certain matters into our own hands?) Moses' intentions were likely well meaning but they were not well thought out. Killing one Egyptian slave master would not make a significant difference in the plight of Israel. Moses was a young man at this point.

Notice in 2:14-21 that Moses decided to flee in light of how Pharaoh would respond to what he had done. (Who among us have not sought to flee from negative consequences created by our ill-advised or sinful choices?) No doubt the Pharaoh would not sit idly by at the disappearance of one of his high ranking men, but he would investigate the matter. Upon discovering Moses - the adopted Hebrew under his roof - had slain the slave master, Pharaoh would call for Moses' neck.

Yet, even amid Moses' flight, we discover his penchant for wanting to help others. Having fled to Midian, he assists seven young women by a well who were mistreated at the hands of some shepherds. His decision to come to the aid of these ladies resulted in Moses agreeing to take for himself a wife.

Notice, finally, in 3:3-4 that Moses chose to turn to the marvelous sight of the bush that burned but was not consumed. This choice, according to the text, prompted God's calling. Moses was a mature man at this point.

Moses chose to kill an Egyptian slave master. Moses chose to flee to Egypt. Moses chose to help the ladies at the side of the well. Moses chose to stay with Reuel (aka, Jethro) and take Zipporah as a wife. Moses chose to turn and look at the burning bush.

Meanwhile, just as Moses was choosing, God was also using each of the experiences to prepare Moses for the Lord's purposes in his life. All the moments and all the movements were shaping Moses for something great.

I write this entry on the eve of 2019. The past year in each of our lives have certainly consisted of numerous choices - some good, some bad; some well-intended albeit likely some not well thought out.

What we freely have chosen has ramifications. Still, the lesson I think we can take from Exodus 2:11-3:4 and the details surrounding Moses is that our past choices should never cripple us. The Lord is at work amid our choices to craft us into the men and women He calls us to be.

It takes around 80 years (40 in Egypt, 40 in Midian) for Moses to be truly prepared for God's grand purpose in his life. So, too, you and I remain works in progress. Let us take to heart that even our wrecked and/or wretched pasts can shape us into individuals with wonderful testimonies of how God was faithfully at work to prepare us for something great.


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

In what way(s) can you discern how God is at work to use your past choices - good and bad - to shape your personal story for His glory:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "If we look at 2:11-3:10 we find four obvious sections: Moses' life in Egypt (2:11-15a); his settlement in Midian (2:15b-22); God's 'sudden remembrance' (2:23-25); and God's self-revelation to Moses (3:1-10). The first two sections are all about Moses - in verses 11-15a there are sixteen verbs, and Moses is the grammatical subject of fourteen of them. In the second two sections, however, the action passes into the hands of God: it is He who 'intervenes' (24-25), and it is He who intrudes so abruptly, so disruptively, into the even tenor of Moses' adopted role of shepherd (3:1-10). Thereby hangs a tale indeed!
     It is not common for biblical narrative to draw lessons or stop to make moral comments. Yet the point to be made here and the conclusion to be drawn is obvious: in the work of God mere human effort, however well-intentioned, committed or influential, results in failure. The only way forward is (speaking reverently) to 'mobilize God' on our side. Seen in this light, 2:11-22 may be called 'the way of failure', and, by contrast, 2:23-25 bring us into 'the place of effectiveness'" (Motyer).

from Best Academic Commentary - "The account of the encounter at the well in Midian in vv. 16-19 tells several things about Moses' character: his flight from Egypt had not blunted his instinct for intervening against injustice and righting wrongs; he was quick to act against oppression, even alone, isolated, and with the odds against him; he was sufficiently imposing and/or assertive to intimidate several shepherds; he was physically vigorous enough to chase off a group of shepherds and then do work that seven girls were planning to do; he was not easily cowed himself; he was generous and helpful to people he hardly knew, acting from principle rather than merely from personal loyalty; and he did not ask for personal reward for what he had done. All of these characteristics are seen again in various ways as Moses responded to God's call to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. In other words, the Moses we see here is basically the same Moses we have already seen as an adult in Egypt and whom we will see again throughout the Pentateuch - a figure whom God continued to prepare for a great and daunting task yet for whom such a test, however potentially dispiriting, would not be something inimical to his basic nature" (Stuart).

from runner-up to Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "In fact, humiliation is one of the means by which the Lord builds Christian character. Moses' exile is what prepared him to shepherd Israel out of Egypt. His flight from Egypt to Midian was the beginning of a lengthy spiritual journey. It came to a climax on Mount Horeb (ch. 3), where Yahweh announces that He is going to use Moses for a mighty purpose. We can even say that it is the Lord's hand that drives Moses out of his comfort zone and into the desert. Would Moses have been adequately prepared for his ministry had he remained adorned in royal splendor? I think not. Rather, he is humbled by the Lord precisely so that he may be made into an instrument of deliverance. ...
     The Moses of Exodus 2:11-25 must precede the Moses of Exodus 14. The Christ born of lowly circumstances, who was despised and rejected by men, who died with great shame, must precede the Christ of the resurrection. We, too, must be broken before we can be built up again, for His sake" (Enns).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Exodus 1:15-22

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

Scripture affirms the equity of life. Take a moment to read Isaiah 58:6 and Micah 6:8. All people created in the image of God, regardless of their skin color, their sexual orientation, and so on, deserve respectful and humane treatment. Just because we are different racially or culturally or just because we disagree on lifestyle matters never gives us the right to treat another human being in an unkind, uncivil, unloving manner.

Scripture affirms the sanctity of life. Take a moment to read Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 127:3, and Psalm 139:13-16. I know that some people will argue that a child is only the potential of life in utero, but tell that to a child's beating heart between 8-12 weeks after conception. Plus, my wife and I have spent time in the NICU: make your argument with a child fighting for his or her life outside the womb at 24 or 25 weeks. Whenever talking about the humane treatment of other persons, should we not fight the hardest for those who cannot stand for themselves? Shouldn't we have a heart for the unborn?

Scripture affirms times for civil disobedience. Take a moment to read Acts 5:29 and Romans 12:18. When the equity and/or sanctity of life is denied to a particular group of people, it is certainly fitting to seek to secure those rights through non-violent means. For instance, recall little black boys and girls blasted across sidewalks with water hoses in Birmingham, AL. What did those children want? They wanted the same rights as little white boys and girls. What were they doing? Just sitting in non-violent protest.

The first instance recorded of civil disobedience in Scripture appears in Exodus 1. Pharaoh, the most powerful ruler in the world, ordered Hebrew midwives to immediately dispose of male Jewish babies upon their birth. In other words, he repudiated both the equity and the sanctity of life. Only Shiphrah and Puah - the two midwives that Exodus 1:15 mentions by name because they probably served as head nurses over all the others - refused Pharaoh's order. 

The manner in which Shiphrah and Puah defied the order of the governing body is not definitively laid out, but the words recorded in verse 19 give a pretty good clue. Douglas Stuart contends that these two midwives likely forged a plot among all the Hebrew midwives to inform Israelite women to do "everything possible to give birth before we are summoned to your home. We'll take it from there. But whatever you do, don't call on us before the baby actually comes." 

Much more important than the manner in which Shiphrah and Puah defied Pharaoh is the lesson that their civil disobedience teaches us. God can take unassuming people to do extraordinary things for others and for His Kingdom purposes. 

Some individuals might protest that these women were deceitful and thus question how God is honored through that. But the brutality of Pharaoh and the hardness of his heart left him undeserving of loyalty and truth. [If a Christian family in Nazi Germany provided safe haven for Jews and a member of the Gestapo knocked on their door to ask if they were hiding anyone, how should the family respond?] 

God clearly had no problem with the midwives approach to the situation in which they were confronted. Not only were an increasing number of children born as a result of their manner of civil disobedience, the Lord even blessed Shiphrah and Puah with families of their own. 

Still, Pharaoh had zero intention of seeing his designs thwarted. Fearful that the growing number of now oppressed Hebrew boys would pose a future military threat to his earthly kingdom (cf. Ex. 1:8-14), Pharaoh ordered Egyptians to drown all newborn Israelite sons in the Nile River. 

The Hebrew midwives had acted in a form of civil disobedience, but they could not stop the brutality of Pharaoh's order now. In fact, Pharaoh's edict is just one of many similar attempts of Satan to use a despot to snuff out the birth of the Messiah.

In Genesis 3:15, the Lord pronounces that the serpent would bruise His Son's heel but that Jesus would crush Satan's head. People recover from bruised heels but not from crushed heads. Consequently, Satan was at work through various antichrists to snuff out the seed by which the Messiah would come. 

Pharaoh first tried to do it through the order he issued to the Hebrew midwives, but two obscure ladies took a stand for innocent babies and for God's Kingdom. 

Pharaoh then tried to do it through the order he issued to the Egyptians, only his own unnamed daughter had compassion on a three-month-old baby boy that she discovered in a basket floating down the Nile River. This male child named Moses would eventually deliver his people from their bondage in Egypt (cf. Ex. 2:1-10).

Move forward to the New Testament and King Herod. Like Pharaoh, he was concerned for his earthly kingdom. Like Pharaoh, he simply served as an instrument of the wicked one. 

In Matthew chapter 2, Herod ordered the slaughter of all baby boys two-years-old and younger in the town of Bethlehem as a response to the news that the Christ had been born (cf. Micah 5:2). Only God directed a poor carpenter and a young maiden to carry His Son into the land of Egypt, away from the cruel hand of Herod (cf. Hosea 11:1). The Lord used a young couple with an illegitimate child in the eyes of the world to do an extraordinary thing for others and for His Kingdom. 

This male son named Jesus, taken from a lowly Bethlehem manager, would come out of Egypt (like Moses) to deliver His people from their bondage to sin. 

How will God now use you to take a stand for others and for His Kingdom? Never let Satan deceive you into thinking that you cannot make a difference. Think of the little children in the streets of Birmingham. Think of Shiphrah and Puah. Think of a baby boy pulled from a river. Think of a compassionate unnamed princess. Think of a poor carpenter and his teenage wife. Think of the Son of God born in a feeding trough. 

You do not have to hold a prestigious title in order to promote justice, to treat others with love and respect, to protect the well-being of those in need, or to advance the glory of God!


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

How do you believe God might be calling you to set aside a personal earthly kingdom agenda so as to make a difference for His Kingdom:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "Stephen claimed at his trial that Moses 'received living words to pass on to us' (Acts 7:38), and his words apply just as much to us as to his first-century audience. The gap of thousands of years between the Lord's word to Moses and Stephen and on to our possession of Holy Scripture means nothing. There is a contemporary reality about the word of God, so that when we read Exodus we are not just learning of the past, we are learning for the present. This is a living word for us. The people of God - we - are still the twelve-tribe-unity scattered in the world, subject to the world's hardships, suffering the world's sorrows. We would like an answer to our question, 'Why?', but God does not come down to explain Himself. Experiences without explanations - that is what the first chapter of Exodus is all about. Our only comfort is that God comes to us in the day of darkness and lovingly reassures us that, 'It is all right, it is all planned and it will all be well'" (Motyer).

from Best Academic Commentary - About verse 16, Douglas Stuart writes: "it was certainly true that Israelite midwives were in an ideal position to kill babies. They attended the birth and had time at any of various points of looking after an emerging or just-delivered child to suffocate or strangle him. Perhaps the pharaoh believed this could be done without most mothers even realizing it, assuming as he might arrogantly have done that women in the throes of childbirth would not be sufficiently alert to spot such a felony if it were subtly practiced.
     There is nothing about delivery stools (or birth stones or birth stools or the like) in this verse. What the Hebrew says is probably quite simple: 'When you help the Hebrew women to give birth, look at the genitals. If it is a boy, put him to death. If a girl, let her live'" (Stuart).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "Pharaoh's attempt to exterminate the sons of Israel anticipated all the antichrists of history. Wherever there is a reign of terror or a culture of death, Satan is trying to destroy the work of God. The slogans change, but the sin remains the same. ...
    There is also an analogy here to the life of the soul. Pharaoh had two strategies for preventing God's people from growing: slavery and death. These are the same weapons Satan uses when he tries to destroy a human being. First, sin leads to slavery, for as Jesus said, 'Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin' (John 8:34). Then once we are enslaved, sin leads to death: 'For the wages of sin is death' (Romans 6:23). What we need is exactly what the Israelites needed: a Savior to deliver us from slavery and to rescue us from death by destroying our enemy. Just as God provided a savior for Israel (Moses), so He has provided a Savior for us (Jesus). Where once there was bondage and death, now Jesus brings liberty and life" (Ryken).

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Genesis 50:15-21

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

You might know the story of how Joseph's brothers had sold him into slavery when Joseph was a teenager. Many events occurred prior to this treacherous act and many events unfolded after it, but Genesis chapters 39-41 reveal how the Lord remained with Joseph and caused him to prosper in Egypt (cf. Gen. 39:2-3; 39:21-23; 41:39-40).

Some years later, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt during a famine to ask for food. Although they did not recognize Joseph, he recognized them. Genesis 45:1-15 records how Joseph forgives his siblings for their mistreatment of him.

It is with that background that we arrive to Genesis 50. Sadly, Jacob has now died. Consequently, the brothers concoct a story that their father pleaded on his deathbed for Joseph not to exact revenge on his brothers. In other words, they did not believe that Joseph had ever truly forgiven them.

Seventeen years had passed since Genesis 45. During all that time they feared their crime against Joseph was too great. This anxious spirit zapped them of the joy they could have known with their father and their brother if they had rested in the freedom of Joseph's forgiveness rather than let fear enslave them.

Richard Hoefler tells of a little boy visiting his grandparents while trying to learn how to use his first slingshot. Out in the woods, the boy grew frustrated by his inability to hit a target. 

Walking back to his grandparents farm, he spotted his grandmother's duck. The boy took aim and actually hit the duck with a stone. To his dismay, the duck fell over dead. 

In a panic, the boy hid the carcass of his grandmother's duck in the woodpile, only to find his little sister Sally watching. Although she witnessed everything that happened, she said nothing at the time.

Later, after lunch, Grandma said, "Sally, help me wash the dishes."

Sally responded, "Johnny told me he wanted to do that today." Then she whispered in her brother's ear, "Remember the duck."

Johnny did all the dishes.

That afternoon, Grandpa asked if Johnny and Sally wanted to go fishing. Grandma interjected that she needed Sally to help make dinner, but Sally just grinned and explained that Johnny said he preferred to assist with dinner. 

"Remember the duck," she whispered again. So Johnny stayed home while Sally went fishing.

After several days of doing both his and Sally's chores, Johnny finally broke. He went to his grandmother and confessed to killing her duck. Hugging her grandson, Grandma said, "I know, Johnny. I saw everything from the kitchen window. Because I love you, I already forgave you, but I was wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."

Just as Johnny let himself be enslaved by Sally, many people become enslaved by the father of lies. Satan whispers in your ear, "Remember the duck." Therefore, like Joseph's brothers, you live in constant fear that God could never forgive you of some past sin. This anxious spirit zaps you of the joy that you should experience with your Heavenly Father and with Christ your Brother.

The story of Joseph and his brothers at the end of Genesis reveals the important lesson of our need to live in the freedom of forgiveness instead of the bondage to fear (cf. Isa. 38:17; Mic. 7:19; Heb. 8:12, 10:17). 

Notice how Joseph weeps because his brothers are afraid of him (Gen. 50:17). He lets them know that their fears are groundless, recalling what he had said the first time he disclosed his identity to them (cf. Gen. 45:5-11). "What he promised to them before his father arrived in Egypt he now reaffirms after he has gone. In these two passages we have expressed the key idea that informs the whole Joseph story, that through sinful men God works out His saving purposes" (Gordon J. Wenham).

Indeed, what Joseph's brothers intended for evil, God purposed for good (Gen. 50:20). Joseph recognized how the Lord used the events of his life to bring physical deliverance for his people, and he freely forgave his brothers. 

What humanity intended for evil at Calvary, God purposed for the greatest good. Christ paid the price that sin owed (a debt we could never repay on our own) in order to bring spiritual deliverance for His people, and now He stands ready to freely forgive.

Read John 8:34-36, and live in your freedom!


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

What sin from your life do you have trouble surrendering to the Lord in belief that He has truly forgiven you of it:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "I submit the example of the greatest evil in all history producing the greatest good imaginable. I refer to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is parallel to the story of Joseph, because Joseph prefigured Christ in nearly every way. ... He was the favored of His Father, but He became a slave (and later rose to the highest position of power) in order to seek us out and save us. Most significant, He was hated by His brethren, the very ones the Father was using Him to save. He was innocent of any wrongdoing (cf. Isa. 53:7). Yet we hated Him. Against Him cruel and evil men poured out wrath. He was unjustly arrested, unjustly tried, unjustly convicted. Then He was killed without mercy. Never in the entire history of the world has greater evil been done - for this was an extreme of evil practiced against One who was not only innocent of crimes but was also actually sinless. 
     Yet from this greatest of all evils - evils that parallel but infinitely exceed the abuse inflicted on Joseph - God brought forth the greatest possible good: the salvation of a vast company of people" (Boice). 
     I will add here that Joseph's forgiveness of his brother's evil committed against him models Christ's forgiveness of us. "Father, forgive them," He cried out from the cross (Luke 22:34). Should we, then, not also freely forgive even the evils that are committed against us and then to let people know that they can live in the freedom of our forgiveness?!?! 

from Best Academic Commentary - "Most traditional commentators who hold that the Testament of Jacob is integral to the narrative argue that, since Jacob makes no clear reference to his sons' treatment of Joseph, he cannot have known what they had done to him. Therefore they suggest that this plea is, in Sternberg's words, a 'desperate fabrication.'" (Wenham).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The sovereign plan of God, designed to save many people alive, in some way incorporated the evil of the brothers and used it as the means of bringing about the good. On the basis of his confidence in the ways of the Lord, Joseph was able to comfort his brothers and relieve their fears. 
     Relationships among God's people may sometimes be tense, especially when ... leadership changes hands. But believers can use this to demonstrate God's sovereign design, even through human failures. They may do so through forgiveness and kindness" (Ross).

Friday, November 2, 2018

Genesis 29:31-35

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

Horatio Spafford planned a vacation for his family to England. Because of a business meeting, he sent his wife and their four daughters ahead of him on a ship called the Ville de Havre.

Midway across the Atlantic, the ship tragically collided with another vessel. In less than 15 minutes, the Ville de Havre sunk. The Spafford's four daughters were among the 266 passengers on the ship who perished. Anna, however, miraculously survived. Upon her rescue she telegrammed her husband two words: "Saved alone."

Immediately boarding the next ship out of New York, Horatio Spafford left to join his grieving wife. In close proximity to where the Ville de Havre had met with disaster, Spafford penned these words: "When peace like a river attendeth my way,/ When sorrows like sea billows roll;/ Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,/ It is well, it is well, with my soul."

The words to the hymn It is Well remind us to Whom we must look amid the many storms of our lives. In some ways it helps to form the same message that a young woman named Leah eventually embraces.

Reading in Genesis 29:31-35 about Leah naming her first four sons may seem inconsequential on the surface. Yet, the circumstances surrounding those births and the names of those sons reveal an important lesson for us in our faith journey.

Genesis 27:33 reminds us that Isaac intended to bless his oldest son Esau in accordance with Hebrew tradition, only Jacob tricked his father out of the blessing. In the midst of this deception, Isaac all but says, This is not what I deserve.

Jacob's trickery would arouse Esau's anger, forcing Jacob to flee from his family home to go live with his uncle Laban. Since Jacob was a Mama's boy and Esau was a burly hunter, Jacob rightfully feared his older brother.

Much to Jacob's delight, once he arrived to Haran he fell in love with Laban's youngest daughter Rachel. He agreed to work 7 years for Rachel's hand in marriage. After 7 years of hard work, Jacob's night for marriage came. With a thick veil over his bride's face, he took his vows.

Much to Jacob's chagrin, Genesis 29:25 highlights that he awoke to find Leah at his side. Laban told Jacob that Jewish custom demanded the older daughter marry before the younger one (Gen. 29:26). The trickster Jacob had been tricked, and from his tremendous disappointment he all but says: This is not what I deserve.

Jacob had worked hard with something in mind only to be disappointed. It is this disappointment that proves to have devastating results for Leah.

Think about it. Laban had given his oldest daughter's hand in marriage to a man who loved her younger sister. Worse yet, just one week later, Laban allows Jacob to marry Rachel in exchange for 7 more years of labor (Gen. 29:27-28). This was Leah's circumstance; consequently, she was always seeking after the love of her husband.

Women in that culture dealt with different challenges than women in today's Western society. A Hebrew woman's identity was wrapped up in marriage, and she brought honor to her husband by bearing him children (especially sons).

While Jacob's preferred wife Rachel was barren, God opened Leah's womb. She first has Reuben, whose name means "Behold, a son." Then she has another son, whom she calls Simeon or "God has heard." Next, she bears a son whom she names Levi, meaning "Attached."

"Behold a son - love me!" ... "God has heard my plight - love me!" ... "Another son for you - love me, attach yourself to me!"

Yet, despite giving Jacob three sons, he was not attached to Leah. His heart was for Rachel, and Leah was devastated. It seems reasonable enough that Leah would all but say, This is not what I deserve.

A former high school student that I taught and who also participated in a Bible study group that my wife and I led could certainly relate to the type of devastation Leah must have felt. During his senior year, the student lost his mother to cancer. That in and of itself is severe, but his senior year worsened.

The night before he was scheduled to leave on a Spring Break trip with his two best friends, the young man suffered a freak accident playing on an inflated bounce castle. The accident required surgeons to perform emergency life-threatening surgery to repair a ruptured artery. Instead of skiing in Colorado, he recovered in a hospital bed watching DVDs with me.

That's not all. This young man had always dreamed of following in the footsteps of his father and his brother by attending the West Point Academy. He had received word of his acceptance in February; now, due to the severity of his injury, West Point would no longer admit him.

Reuben - not what I deserve. Simeon - not what I deserve. Levi - not what I deserve.

But this is where we come to Leah's fourth son, whose name means "Praise." It does not seem at this particular point in her life that Leah puts her hopes or her identity or her central desire in the love of her husband. Here, Leah just says, "God be praised."

Perhaps this blog entry is written for you. Maybe you are hurting because you feel like your hopes have been crushed. I think of the many friends I know who have endured one or more miscarriages. Maybe you are hurting because your identity has been brought into question. I think of former students who were emotionally damaged by mean-spirited posts put up about them on social media. Maybe you are hurting because your heart has been broken. I think of men and women who have endured a divorce not of their own choosing.

Everyone has felt his or her own doses of devastation, but I pray that our circumstances - whatever they may be - do not end in a spirit of devastation. The central lesson for us from Leah's devastating experience emerges from the birth and naming of her fourth son Judah.

It is, after all, from the line of Judah that Jesus Christ came and lived a sinless life only to die a sinner's death. It is, after all, from the line of Judah that Jesus Christ conquered the grave as risen Lord.

Salvation emerges beyond the ashes from this story in Genesis that involves deception and disappointment and devastation. And salvation can emerge beyond even the ashes of our own stories.

Yes, "God be praised," the penalty I owe, Jesus paid. The death I am due, Jesus overcame. This is not what I deserve.

That's why Horatio Spafford could write amid his inexplicable devastation: "My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought/ My sin, not in part but the whole,/ Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,/ Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul."

Can you sing that today?


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

Write out a short prayer that you could say amid challenging seasons of your life to remind you to yet trust and praise God:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "The fourth son was called Judah, which means 'praise.' By this time, Leah had stopped seeing the birth of sons as a means by which her husband's love could be gained and instead merely praised God for the birth of the children.
     ... God changed Leah. He gave her grace to live in a less-than-perfect situation. He multiplied her joy in childbirth. He gave her sons who became the fathers of the greatest Jewish tribes. Levi was the father of the priests. Judah was the father of the tribe through which the Messiah came. Is that not interesting? The Lord Jesus Christ was not born of the line that came from Rachel, even though she was the one Jacob loved. He came from Leah" (Boice).  

from Best Academic Commentary - "This episode of the birth of Jacob's sons culminates with the birth of Joseph (30:24), which is the cue for Jacob to return home (30:25). This episode, which in fact spans about seven years, lies right at the center of the Laban-Jacob narrative and of the whole Jacob cycle itself. It presupposes all that has gone before, most obviously Jacob's flight to Haran and his involuntary bigamous marriage to Leah and Rachel. Here the unhappy tensions caused by that relationship are displayed most poignantly; the whole episode is governed by Leah's longing for Jacob's love and Rachel's craving for children. Leah's frequent pregnancies only aggravate Rachel's frustration at her own childlessness. But Leah's success in producing offspring leaves her deeply disappointed, for, far from drawing her husband closer to her, it leads her to be excluded from the marriage bed, so that only Rachel has access to Jacob. These dark passions govern the whole narrative, most obviously in Rachel's appeal to Jacob for children (30:1-2) and in Leah's trading mandrakes for sex (30:14-16), but also in the names given to the children, nearly all of which comment on the relationships between the sisters and their husband" (Wenham).


from runner-up to Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "Leah, the unwanted and unloved wife, gives birth to the forebears of four important tribes in Israel. Moses and Aaron would be born in the tribe of Levi; the Lord would choose the Levites to serve Him in His temple. David would be born in the tribe of Judah; the Lord would choose the royal line of kings from the tribe of Judah. As later Israel read the story of Laban's deception and Jacob's wrong choices, they would have become aware of a deep mystery: their sovereign Lord can fulfill His promises even through human deception and scheming" (Greidanus).


Friday, October 26, 2018

Genesis 28:10-22

TAKE TIME TO REFLECT:

The name Jacob in Hebrew means "heel-grabber," "supplanter," or "trickster." So he was. He had tricked his father Isaac into blessing him instead of his older brother Esau. As a result of his actions, he fled his homeland and family so that his angry older brother would not harm him.

On the way to stay with his Uncle Laban, Jacob stops for the night in a place called Bethel. The word "place" appears six times in Genesis 28:10-22. The Lord has a way of coming to the most unexpected of people in the most unexpected of places through the most unexpected of ways in the most unexpected of times to open our eyes to His love and mercy. 

That is the case with Jacob; that is the case with you and me as well.

Jacob felt alone, but God does not leave him alone. Jacob surely doubted how God's hand of blessing could be upon him, but God touches this wandering supplanter nonetheless. As Christians, you and I can identify with Jacob. None of us deserve God's favor, but He lavishes it upon us anyway. 

Jacob was asleep on the ground in Bethel with a stone beneath his head when the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Jacob saw a ladder leading to heaven with angels ascending and descending: Christ was that ladder (cf. John 1:51).

Matthew Henry points out that the bottom of the ladder is Christ in His human nature, whereas the top of the ladder is Christ in His divine nature. Jesus' two natures are necessary so that He can be "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). We have no way to heaven but by the Ladder; we have no way to the Father but through the person of Christ!

Our testimony may not be as extraordinary as Jacob's, but all Christians recognize that God chose to reveal Himself to us in a certain place and in a certain way. Maybe that revelation even happened in the womb like it did for John the Baptist! (cf. Luke 1:41) The crux of the matter is that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus, for there is no other name by which we must be saved (cf. Acts 4:12).

The central lesson from Jacob's encounter with the Lord at Bethel is that God has a propensity to show up in the lives of heel-grabbers and wanderers like you and me, which warrants a response from us. In Genesis 28:18-22, the young convert Jacob responds by promising to worship God and honor Him with a tithe.

Worship was at one time pronounced as worth-ship, meaning to acknowledge the worth that is in God alone (cf. Rev. 7:12). We should live our whole existence in the worship of God. As the old hymn proclaims, "I give Thee back the life I owe."

We find that Jacob's worship begins through a spirit of giving, just as Abram's did at his encounter with Melchizedek (cf. Gen. 14:18-20). Nevertheless, Jacob's maturity was not yet at the level of Abram's. Jacob, a new convert, says, "If God will ..." (Gen. 28:20).

Unfortunately, I think many Christians can identify with Jacob here, too. We believe, but we still put our feeble conditions upon God. 

Tony Evans once highlighted the story of Danny Simpson who robbed a bank in Canada at the age of 24. His take home from the robbery was $6,000, but Simpson was later captured and imprisoned. The tragedy of the event comes from the fact that he robbed the bank with a 1918 45-caliber semi-automatic Colt valued at $100,000. 

If Christians believed in the incalculable worth of God's faithfulness, they would not hesitate to trust Him with a tithe (10%). They would not rob a $6,000 safe with a $100,000 gun.

Instead of starting our sentence with "if God will," we would be far better off by starting a question with, "Has God been?" Has God been faithful to me, and what response do I thus owe Him?


TAKE TIME TO RESPOND:

I am sometimes prone to set conditions on my giving to God based on:

_____________________________________________________.


TAKE TIME TO REVIEW:

from Best Devotional Commentary - "As we look at Jacob's experience, I want you to see that God is also with you. You may be on the verge of a mental collapse; but although you cannot sense it, God is with you right now. You may be quite ill. You may be misunderstood by your friends. You may be abandoned by a husband, a wife, or your children. Even the church may have turned its back on you. You may have lost a job. You may be discouraged. You may have so little self-worth that you feel that no one will ever care for you again. ... I want you to hear God speaking. Where you are now can be a gate of heaven" (Boice).  

from runner-up to Best Academic Commentary - "The ladder stood there upon the earth, just where Jacob was lying in solitude, poor, helpless, and forsaken by men. Above in heaven stood Jehovah, and explained in words the symbol which he saw. Proclaiming Himself to Jacob as the God of his fathers, He not only confirmed to him all the promises of the fathers in their fullest extent, but promised him protection on his journey and a safe return to his home (vv. 13-15). But as the fulfillment of this promise to Jacob was still far off, God added the firm assurance, I will not leave thee till I have done what I have told thee.
     Jacob gave utterance to the impression made by this vision as soon as he awoke from sleep, in the words, Surely Jehovah was in this place, and I knew it not. Not that the omnipresence of God was unknown to him; but that Jehovah in His condescending mercy should be near to him even here, far away from his father's house and from the places consecrated to His worship, - it was this which he did not know or imagine" (Keil & Delitzsch).


from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The clear revelation of God's gracious dealings can transform a worldly individual into a worshiper. Such a drama has been repeated again and again throughout the history of the faith. Perhaps no story in Scripture illustrates this transformation so vividly as does Jacob's dream at Bethel. Before this experience Jacob was a fugitive from the results of his sin, a troubled son in search of his place in life, a shrewd shepherd setting out to find a wife. After this encounter, however, he was a partner with God as a recipient of His covenant promises and a true worshiper. The transformation was due to God's intrusion into the course of his life" (Ross).