Monday, January 28, 2019

Exodus 5:1-7:7


Obeying God does not guarantee success. In fact, when we are obedient, things can sometimes become more unpleasant. Moses' initial encounter with Pharaoh demonstrates how leadership can be wrought with resistance and discouragement.

Needless to say, Pharaoh does not respond well to Moses' demands to let Israel go. The thought of losing his slave labor so they can worship a God he does not know meets with Pharaoh's stern resistance. Keep in mind that Pharaoh realized Moses' demands involved more than a little time off for corporate worship. Douglas Stuart points out, "In the style of Near Eastern requesting favors, the initial request was purposefully stated in a modest way, although what was really being sought was much more: full permanent departure."

Moses' situation is not lost on any leader who proposes something new or different. Sometimes when a leader brings forth a word for change, voices can rise up in resistance. Change, after all, might entail people losing positions of power or a sense of control.

Pharaoh was certainly unwilling to lose control over the Hebrew people. It did not matter that God had given the word; this was Pharaoh's kingdom, after all. 

While the intention of Exodus chapter 5 is not to provide a commentary on the church, let's be honest and admit that the unbelieving attitude of Pharaoh can rear its ugly head even among true believers. The Lord might be directing a leader to promote a change - be it big or small - only to encounter a pharaoh-type resistance. It is their church, after all.

Pharaoh's resistance takes shape in making things even more unpleasant for the Hebrew people. As things get increasingly worse (and sometimes things must become worse before they get better), Moses experiences doubts that prompt feelings of discouragement. 

As the circumstances grow hard, prominent Israelites blame Moses and Aaron. The Hebrew foremen had not lost faith in Yahweh, but they thought Moses and Aaron had terribly mishandled matters. They decry, "May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us" (5:21). They reasoned that God would not have allowed for such a difficult circumstance except for failed leadership. 

I doubt leaders can experience much greater discouragement than to be told that they have only made a "stench" of things. Ignore the fact that a leader is simply speaking truth from God's Word. Ignore the fact that a leader has the best interest of God's people at heart. We are a "this instant," "results-oriented" culture, and we do not want to experience any period of discomfort that a new direction might require. 

Needless to say, when a number of voices clamor against the direction of a leader, that leader might wonder about his or her ability and value. Like Moses, we think to ourselves: "I knew I was not fit for this job" (6:12; 6:30). Furthermore, as Moses surveys the landscape, he begins to question his purpose (I will expand on Moses' response to these events and its significance in the next blog entry). 

So how can leaders overcome the discouragement that resistance can cause? I think the lesson we learn from the circumstances surrounding Moses and Aaron is that we must rest in God's promises and rely on God's power.

As you read Exodus 6:1-8, notice how many times the Lord says, "I will." Each statement draws attention to God's covenant promises.

As you read Exodus 7:1-5, notice how many times the Lord says, "I will." Each statement draws attention to God's sovereign power.

I also love the intrusion of lineage listed in Exodus 6:14-25. It perhaps seems odd for the names of families to appear at this point in the text, but 6:26-30 helps to clarify the matter. Aaron and Moses emerged from the genealogy.

In Scripture, genealogy often serves as a means of validation for a person's place and purpose. No doubt this is a major reason for its inclusion here. 

I contend, however, that Moses is further making a point that these two men were apt to feel unsure of themselves and that they were certainly too weak to bring deliverance for God's people of their own accord. The beginning of verse 26 and the end of verse 27 read, "It was this same Aaron and Moses ..." In other words, that which qualified them to lead did not originate from who they were but from Who called them.

From the discouragement that resistance caused, people questioned Moses' leadership. From the discouragement that resistance caused, Moses questioned his own ability to lead. And maybe you have found yourself in Moses' shoes a time or two; maybe you find yourself there now. It is in such moments that God would remind you it's never about who you are but Who He is.

The Apostle Paul hints at this lesson of leadership from Moses' life in 2 Corinthians 4:5-7. That text is a great reminder that ministry is not about us but about the promises of God fulfilled through the power of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Specifically, Paul writes in verse 7: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 

Two points bear emphasizing:
1. Do not think too low of yourself in your leadership role. Understand that wherever God calls you to lead, He will work through your strengths and your weaknesses in His time to bring about His purposes. 
2. Do not think too high of yourself in your leadership role. Understand that what you say and do must come from God's directive and not your own agenda.

Exodus 7:6 highlights that Moses and Aaron did not let resistance and discouragement derail them (cf. Ex. 7:10; 7:20). No, they continued to follow the will of the Lord. I believe they were able to do so because they ultimately rested in God's promises and relied on God's power.


When you face resistance and discouragement, what promises from Scripture do you find especially uplifting that point you to the hope you have in the power of God:



from runner-up to Best Devotional Commentary - "So the question is not, 'Will we ever have moments of discouragement?' The question is this: 'How can I deal with deep discouragement?' When I seek to live out God's Word and things do not work out the way I expect, where do I go for help, strength, and sanity? The answer to this practical, real-life question lies in Exodus 5-6. We will learn that we fight discouragement with Gospel promises" (Merida).

from Best Academic Commentary - "The passage concentrates especially on Moses' need for reassurance. The hero of the story, in other words, is Yahweh, not Moses. Moses openly admitted repeatedly in Exodus that he lacked confidence in his ability to carry out God's orders and reminded us in each case that God sustained him through the entire process. Even the note about his and Aaron's age in 7:7 is instructive: The two of them were called upon to lead a great movement at an age when most people have already died (Ps. 90:10). Their contribution to the exodus was not their genius or their experience (what experience had they in leading an exodus?) or their credentials (Moses' were essentially negative as far as most Israelites were concerned) or their vitality, or any such thing. What made them successful leaders was the fact that they 'did just as the Lord commanded them' (7:6)" (Stuart).

from runner-up to Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "Exodus 3:1-7:7 as a whole forms a large unit that is unified by a central theme: The God of Israel is in control. The main way in which this theme is presented is by the reiteration of the divine name in 3:14-15 and 6:3 and the recurring reference to God being the 'I AM.' Despite apparent setbacks, the game plan has not changed. Moses and the Israelites may be panicking, but God is steady and sure, for the outcome is never in doubt. Moses and Aaron should understand the recurring setbacks they experience by Pharaoh's repeated refusals as being well within the parameters of God's plan of deliverance."
     ... "It is perhaps easy to empathize with Moses in 5:22-7:7. God has called him to a special task, yet in following God he faces severe discouragement. One can hardly blame Moses' exasperation in 5:22-23. It seems natural for us to allow setbacks to affect how we live out the Christian life - even how we view our relationship to God Himself. Yet, the Lord often pushes us, as He did Moses, to reach limits we thought impossible" (Enns).

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Exodus 4:24-26


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 or what 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. 


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



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


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)


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:



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


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."


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