Taking the “Lord’s name in vain” has been a strange “sin” for me, and, from what I can observe, for my culture and society at large. The commonality of calling on the Creator of the world to damn something or someone was astoundingly common in the ’80’s, and much less so in the ’90’s and early decade of the 21st Century. But, as the second decade comes to a close, embarking us on the third, it’s growing in popularity again.

Holy, versus common or profane use of God’s name, means to call on our Savior for something empty or without purpose. But it also means to use His name commonly. This is not to malign those with the Spanish/Hispanic name, Jesus; rather it could be argued that that naming your child this way is respectful, or at least, hopeful. I’m named for one of the disciples of Jesus, another common naming convention. But, when the name of my Savior is used as a common expletive, or even in some other form of a curse, then, perhaps, commonality and the profaning of what is holy has occurred.

Here’s the law as we have it in Exodus 20:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

Exodus 20:7 NASB

There is a clear, unambiguous, threat behind this law. Yahweh will not “hold blameless” the one using His name vainly. To make sure this is clear, let’s look at the word, “vain” and the phrase “hold blameless”.

The word commonly translated as “vain” is the Hebrew word, shav (Strong’s H7723), and is different from the common “vanity” term used in Ecclesiastes (Strong’s H1892). The term used here, in Exodus 20, is based on a Hebrew word for “desolation” or “ruin”. The term in Ecclesiastes is based on a word for emptiness or vapor/breath. The word used in Exodus is much more substantial than the word used Ecclesiastes. Using the name of our Creator in a way that causes or intends ruin, is what is in view here. While the “teacher” has a more empty sort of meaning in view in Ecclesiastes.

But what about “holding blameless”? What does that mean? Here, the Hebrew word is naqah (Strong’s H5352) which has a range of meaning from desolation to cleanness, has, as its core meaning, empty or poured out. By extension, it can mean “empty of guilt”, and is commonly used this way. That’s how it’s used here, and in this form, always has God as the subject; either He does or does not allow them to be empty of guilt. Here, clearly, God does not allow them to be empty of guilt. It might be analogous to the current slang term, “free-and-clear” in reference to a debt or legal charges.

I suppose that the real problem I have is how offended I should, or should not, be when I hear someone use the name of my Savior this way. It’s clear that my Master will not clear their guilt. So, do I need to heap on my own judgement and disdain as well? I certainly don’t like it. It immediately gets my attention, and not in a good way. But should I be “offended” on behalf of my Master? Should I let the ignorant blathering of those without knowledge of their Creator set me off track of the goal of my Master? Or is addressing this mistake on their part the real goal of my Master?

I don’t have an answer for this, so, perhaps this is a good place to invite comment with different perspectives. Is there a Scripture reference that addresses this issue, besides the “Decalogue”? What is your experience, and what is your interpretation?

I’ll leave it at that, and simply invite views through the fence.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


No Idol Threat

Paul points out, in Ephesians 6, that the command to honor your parents is the first command with a promise. It’s a promise of long life in the land of promise. In a way, the second commandment sounds like it comes with a threat. But buried in the threat is a promise:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Exodus 20:4-6 NASB

The worship of Yahweh is unique in its absence of animal and human imagery. While the world around them had images worshiped in the form of mixed animals and human images, the Hebrews were to have none. This proved a difficult command for them. They couldn’t even follow it for the time Moses was on the mountain speaking with God. Even as a belief in some sort of spiritual deity is pervasive throughout human history and nearly every human culture, so is the imagery.

Knowing this, knowing how difficult it will be for them, God provides something about Himself to compel His people to obey. He is a jealous God. This word is an unfortunate choice of English words for this concept. It really is the best option, but only because we have so few. This word is only used in the Pentateuch, the first five books of Scripture (the Torah), and only six times total. It only ever is used of God, so using a common word referring to how people relate to one another has to be lacking.

Human jealousy is often selfish, self-seeking, perhaps by its very nature it can’t be defined any other way. This “jealousy” of God is different. It is a quality of those who are controlling, and, in the end, actually think very little of themselves. Some jealousy is based on violation of proper boundaries, and the priority of certain relationships. At its best, it’s still derived from self. The jealousy of God is a bit different.

Think of it this way, if you had a choice between a house overlooking mountains and the ocean, with amazing vista’s in every direction, or a house in a desert valley with the only constant being high winds, tumbleweeds, and the color brown, which would you choose? We tend to choose that which favors us, regardless of color or wind or vista. If the desert offers better work options, or we’re rock hounds, the it’s the desert for us, and we’re happy as clams. If we’re people who love views of mountains and the ocean, we would choose that. It’s whatever suits us.

God is the Creator of everything. All these other nations worship gods which He created. These gods are in rebellion against Him, they no longer honor Him, nor point to Him. And, I’m pretty sure they’re alive and well today, in our own culture. To choose them, even them along with God, is to choose His enemies. When our loved ones choose to befriend our enemies, we don’t like it. On the national level, we call it “treason”. On the religious level it’s called syncretism, and Paul spends much paper and ink writing against it.

The point is this, when we choose against God, we’re not choosing what is best for us. We may think we are, but we’ve chosen the enemies of our Creator, and have joined the rebellion against Him. The Creator of the universe wants to spend time with us, and we rebel against Him? He offers us Himself, and we rebel against Him? Are you getting the picture? Is it ludicrous enough yet? It’s jealousy, and it is focused on God, but not like “one among equals” as it is with people. It’s the Creator of all things refusing to suffer the ignominy of fools.

And so He considers those following idols as “those hating Me.” And to be considered thus by the Creator is a poor place to put ourselves. And the consequence of such a choice falls on three generations. It is supposed to frighten, to shake us up, and cause us to consider whether we have any such imagery in our own lives? Do we? Is there something which captures our attention which we should give to our Savior? Do we even ask such questions?

But this jealousy isn’t the only characteristic which God describes of Himself. He does punish down to three generations of those He considers hating Him. But rewards thousands of those loving Him. It may be 3 generations of those hating Him, but that’s small compared to the love of God. This Creator may be offended by people choosing His rebellious creatures instead of Him, but He still loves those who choose Him. We can focus on this “jealousy” and miss the real point, His love. Even the jealousy is a loving response, forming a boundary to protect the people He has created, and, for some reason loves dearly.

The choice, and a choice to pursue with vigor, is to choose to put no thing in a competing priority with our Savior. No car, no house, no spouse, no child, no parent, no game, no TV, nothing on TV, nothing is as important as our Savior. Perhaps now is a good time to take inventory. Maybe you should look back at this entry for some “help”.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

None But One

“No other gods.” It sounds pretty basic, simple. what could go wrong? And yet, this command becomes the one that eventually destroys the nation of Israel.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
“You shall have no other gods before Me. “
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

Exodus 20:2-6 NASB

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The first law of the “Ten” is that there are to be no other gods before Yahweh. Literally, this refers to other gods to/for Israel in Yahweh’s presence. Think about that for a second. No other gods in His presence; as in “before His face”. Have you, like me, misunderstood this commandment to mean “other gods besides our Creator and Savior”? And not “besides” as in physically beside, but as in having another god of any sort other than my Master.

Some, looking at this, are confused. What’s the difference? How is there truly any difference at all between having other gods of any sort, and having other gods in the presence of Yahweh? It has to do with worship. In a sense it is splitting hairs, but in another, it reveals something that we, in our modern sophisticated culture, take for granted. What if this means, for us, today, in our culture, that nothing is as important to us as Jesus?

Before you quickly dive in, and claim that nothing competes for your attention, let’s define the depths referred to:

  • Do you take time for Jesus daily? Not “Bible reading”, Jesus, prayer, Him
  • Do you participate in the church you attend, or just Sunday morning. And not your kids, your spouse, YOU. Do you actively participate in what happens at the church you associate with? Or do you not have time for that?
  • Have you even chosen a church? Or are all churches insufficient for you? Do their peculiarities, people, and positions keep you from committing to one?
  • Have you been baptized? And this means immersed publicly, and not as a child, but as a believer, as part of your commitment to follow Jesus.
  • Would you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus, or do you believe that term is for fanatics? Do you consider yourself a “follower” or “believer” instead?

The more “no’s” you have to those questions, the more likely you are to be living in violation of the first commandment. Whatever competes for your attention and keeps you from time with Jesus, participating in His congregation, following His command to be baptized, and devoting yourself as His disciple; whatever that thing or those things are, they have become “other gods in His presence”.

Suddenly this entry becomes a call to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and many may be offended (John 6). I’m not sure, but that might be a good thing. My hope is that this may prompt anyone reading to reevaluate how devoted they are to our Savior, Jesus. I realize from writing that I’ve been holding back from my church, and I see how wrong that is. I feel it, viscerally. And I’m not okay with it. Which may be what’s driving this, I’m projecting. Even so, I suspect I’m not the only one who needs to hear this message, and obey this law of my Master.

Close, But Not Too Close

Have you ever gotten “mixed messages” from someone you love? It’s typically only those you care about that give these messages that are conflicted, often opposing. You might think that our Creator and Savior, as the perfect Communicator, wouldn’t give mixed messages, but He does.

The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord. The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”

Exodus 19:9-13 NASB

Notice that God is coming to the people, yet has Moses set bounds around the mountain, setting a penalty of death for any man or animal who approaches. And God then tells Moses to bring the people near when they hear the sound of the Shofar (ram’s horn). The Savior and Redeemer of the people of Israel comes close, tells them to remain at a distance, and then, to come out to meet Him. Those are mixed messages, but only to modern readers.

The Transfiguration is the same way. Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, bringing the transcendent Creator into His creation. Yet, only takes three to see Him as He truly is. And those three don’t really understand what they see. In the same sense, the message of Jesus brings our Creator close, but then, not too close.

But this message, again, is probably only a problem for modern readers. We would be the ones asking why only Peter James and John. Why would God show up, but then not want anyone to see Him? He sounds almost like He’s afraid of being seen. And I believe He is, but not because His creatures would see Him and not be impressed. I believe He doesn’t want them to see Him because the sight would destroy them. He wants them breathing.

The sons of Israel, they get this without it being explained. They have the legends of the gods of Egypt, the gods of Mesopotamia, the gods of Canaan, and probably the Hittites. There are plenty of reminders that people are not to interact with the gods because they can’t, except by invitation to the “realm of the gods”. But this God is coming to them, from His “plane of existence” into theirs. It’s not normal.

But this abnormal behavior is one of the markers of this Yahweh. He is El, the chief of the pantheon. He is Elohim, above all gods. He is the Creator, not one of several who helped create. And what He wants these people He has chosen to know about Him is that He exists. That’s what they need to know. He’s not content being ignored, not any more. He shows up in flame and smoke, and loud shofar, and speaks to Moses from thunder. He wants to speak to them, to reveal Himself to them, but He needs to do so through Moses. So, this dramatic appearance is really to validate Moses.

God wants to have a relationship with us, but on His terms. He has gone to extreme lengths for this relationship, unbelievable lengths. He draws us to Himself, but He also knows there is a limit in our current condition. Perhaps on the other side of “too close” we would step into His realm, and no longer be able to be in this one. Who knows? But the prohibition from touching the mountain or the one touching the mountain (19:12,13) has to refer to “holiness”. They have touched what has touched Yahweh, and have therefore contracted His holiness. Rather than profane their condition by touching others, they must be killed.

Jesus has redeemed Jews and Gentiles alike to be a holy people. We, by coming into contact with Him, have contracted His holiness. But, we modern people have no sense of what this means, no appreciation for it. Maybe it’s a “first-world” problem, and those in “underdeveloped” countries understand it better. But my fear is that holiness is disappearing from our Christian culture. Otherness, being different, living different, seeing this world and the people in it differently, these qualities are going away. At least I don’t see them around me often. Maybe I need new eyes to see, and perhaps, I need to exhibit this holiness more myself.

What about you? Do you embrace this mixed message of a Holy Creator and Redeemer? Do you walk in this “newness of life” seeing as He sees? Or are you taking the contracted holiness and profaning it daily? We choose, you and I. We can either share the holiness, allowing others to contract it from us, or we can profane it, contracting commonality from others. Today, what will you choose?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Good When It’s Good

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to parent children when you’re asking them to do what they want to do? It’s amazing. It’s the same with dogs, managing employees, and, I suspect, even cats give the appearance of obedience in such situations. But what about when the need is to do what needs to be done, and the need is no fun, not easy, and not quick? What happens to the obedience of children, dogs, employees, and possibly cats?

The story of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt has pictures of this beautiful relationship between the sons of Israel and their God, Yahweh. One of those is found in Chapter 19. God describes what He wants of the people in glowing, wonderful terms.

Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on beagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:3-6 NASB

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

These sons of Israel, who rebelled when thirsty, and questioned Moses when hungry, even when provided with Manna, are to be special to Yahweh. They will be the “possession” of His, from all the nations on the earth. As Americans, being someone’s “possession” doesn’t sound great. In our culture, this sounds subservient, inferior, or oppressed. In Hebrew, this word has much different meaning. The Hebrew word is only used about 8 times (according to the Strong’s Concordance numbering), and of those, twice it is used for the treasure of kings (1 Chronicles 29:3, and Ecclesiastes 2:8), and the other six times, it’s used in reference to Israel, as Yahweh’s chosen people. If you want to look it up, it’s Strong’s 5459, and you can view the definition and usage here.

It’s enough to say that “possession” in English doesn’t truly do it justice. It would be like what we’d keep in the vault, and not the little one at home, but the impregnable one at the bank or something. It’s not just something owned, but something precious. That’s idea of what God is giving to the people. And for this special position within the other nations of the world, they are to keep His covenant. There’s an agreement involved, and already, American minds and hearts, go “Of course, there are strings attached!” And there are. And these strings are more like ropes of chains to be fair.

The people are to obey the voice of Yahweh, and keep His covenant. That sounds easy on the surface, but it never is for these people. Even so, they like the sound of the offer, and agree to it:

So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.

Exodus 19:7-8 NASB

This is a beautiful picture of a relationship between the Creator of the universe, and His human creatures. Out of all these He created in His image, He selects this nation. It’s amazing, wonderful, and should make us somewhat jealous to be included. And, to be honest, we are. We too, are in a covenant with our Master, Jesus. Or, another way to say it, we are in a covenant with our Creator, through Jesus, our Savior. Either way, the truth of this covenant is clear. And we may respond like the sons of Israel, but we need to remember that par of the covenant includes us being a “possession”.

The covenant established by Jesus is different, in many ways, from this covenant established between Yahweh and Israel. But it has a lot of similarities too. For instance, this covenant is established by God, not by us. This covenant includes a relationship with God, a relationship established and defined by things on both sides, ours and His.

This next statement is where many will disagree with me. Which is fine, because it’s an interpretation, and nothing more. The covenant established with Israel at Horeb/Sinai was not predicated on their obedience. It sounds like it is, to be fair, yet, in practice, this covenant is maintained in the face of their disobedience, and flat out rebellion, by God. It was the blessings of the covenant that were predicated on their obedience.

If this is true, that the covenant at Sinai was established and maintained by God, then we have yet another similarity with our own covenant with God through Jesus. They, too, were saved (i.e. set apart from all other people by being in relationship with God) by grace, not by works. Our own covenant with God is established through the sacrifice of Jesus, our Christ, our Redeemer, and Savior. These titles of Jesus make Him the One through Whom we have access to our Creator (through His sacrifice), and there is no other. Yet, in similar fashion, Jesus is Lord, making Him synonymous with Yahweh of the Hebrew Scriptures. Meaning Jesus established this covenant with the people of Israel as well.

The differences between the two covenants are in how they are carried out, the definitions of “obedience” between God and His people. In the covenant with Israel, they brought sacrifices over and over, from what God provided to them. In the covenant through Jesus, He becomes the eternal sacrifice, once for all sin. So, sacrifice, that form of worship in a single place where God placed His name, that is changed by a single event. In this way, Jesus truly does sum up all of the law and prophets in Himself.

But what remains is similar is that we too are to be obedient. And that’s the part we miss. We call that being “legalistic”. But is it? It’s not about following the law to enter the covenant, because the covenant was not established on our obedience. It’s about enjoying the benefits of the covenant through obedience. And, before you run amok thinking this refers to circumcision and Sabbath keeping, remember how Jesus sums up all the law and prophets, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Sabbath-keeping and circumcision were to mark the people of Israel from among the other nations of the earth as holy to Yahweh. If you want to do that, go to church, and be immersed. Like “Sabbath-keeping”, attend church every week. Like “circumcision”, be immersed once. After that, simply “walk about” living life as in the presence of your Savior. Live and make decisions based on being the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Live out the love poured into you by your Creator and Redeemer. Love the Lord (Jesus is Lord) with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

See, we don’t need to view the covenants as that much different. They are, but they are much more similar than they different. They are, in this interpretation, much more connected with obedience than we seem think.

Back and Forth

Do you ever imagine the scene you read about in Scripture? When you read chapter 19 in Exodus, try to imagine Moses’ as he goes back and forth from the mountain to the people. After a bit, it begins to seem like Moses is a pretty busy guy.

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel:

Exodus 19:1-3 NASB

Israel sets up camp, which is a lot of work, and Moses heads up the mountain to speak with God. And Yahweh speaks to him, so, clearly Moses is supposed to go up on the mountain. If you like hiking, this might sound great, like a lot of fun. And, in some ways, it had to be one of more awesome experiences of Moses’ life. At least it probably was the first time.

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

Exodus 19:7-9 NASB

It doesn’t say that Moses went back up the mountain to “report the words of the people.” But, later, in verse 14, Moses goes back down the mountain to give the words of Yahweh to the people. But then, for three days, he remains with the people in the camp until they all go out to meet Yahweh as He descends on to Sinai.

The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish.

Exodus 19:20,21 NASB

Moses heads back up, at the request of God, Who then sends him immediately back down. I’m not trying to obscure the message of Yahweh to His people. And I’m not trying to play down the importance of it. The things that Yahweh says to the sons of Israel are monumental, and the appearance of Yahweh on Mount Sinai blows away the visual effects of any movie ever made. I don’t want to detract from that at all. Those things are lying about the surface of this chapter, and they are important.

What I’m saying is that we can get so impatient with our Savior that we can miss what He’s saying to us, and through us to His other children. Sometimes we get the runaround, going back and forth from the people to God, and back to the people. For instance, pastor’s preach sermons, and people listen. But nothing changes, and the pastor goes back and does it again, and again, nothing changes. At what point does the pastor stop?

What about teaching? When does the teacher stop teaching because it’s not “working”? When do you stop attending church because “you’re not being fed”, or the people are cold? When our Savior might be giving us the runaround, it may be that we’re carrying messages back and forth. The term for such messengers, in English, is “angel”. And some of us have entertained “angels” without knowing it. And, I suspect, some of us have been angels without knowing it.

God chose a frustrating, rebellious, willfully disobedient people, from out of all the peoples of the earth, to His special possession. They are very similar to the Hebrews of Moses’ day. They are us. The message that we have been chosen, even though we don’t deserve to be, that is the message we carry. For our Savior is coming, and will be showing up in the most dramatic of ways. We are called out to stand before Him when He appears, and it will be terrifying, and marvelous when it happens.

So, go ahead and run back and forth, relaying the message of God, He’s coming, He has chosen, and we are to go out and meet with Him.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Taught by Father-in-Law

Have you been told that when Scripture repeats something, that means it’s important? If so, and if you subscribe to that view, then you should know that Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law. I’m not sure exactly why you should know that, but it is repeated in Exodus 18 more than Jethro’s name. His relationship to Moses as his father-in-law was more important than Moses’ wife, the names of his kids, or the name of Jethro.

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was camped, at the mount of God. He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.” Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent.

Exodus 18:5-7 NASB

Moses’ wife and two sons have been with his father-in-law while Moses was in Egypt involved in the Exodus. The wording allows the interpretation that Moses was divorced from Zipporah at this time. And yet, this relationship through marriage to Jethro seems to be the main characteristic of Jethro’s relationship to Moses. There are two places that Jethro is named without referring to him as Moses’ father-in-law, but there are seven places where Jethro is referred to as Moses’ father-in-law without being otherwise named. It may be a literary device, or it could be that the Hebrew for father-in-law (hatan, Strong’s H2859) is easier on the tongue than Jethro (yithrow, Strong’s H3503), but that seems unlikely.

But the relationship of Jethro to Moses, isn’t the point of this story. The visit of Jethro to Moses highlights the administration of the law which is about to be revealed in chapters 19 through 23:19. This law describes how the people are to live with each other as God’s people. This chapter describes how the method of judging the people came to be. It was Jethro’s idea. But why would Moses listen to Jethro? Who is Jethro to Moses? Oh! Jethro is Moses’ father-in-law! But still, aren’t Moses and Zipporah divorced? Yes, and still Moses is willing to be taught by Jethro, to learn from his wisdom.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you!

Exodus 18:17-19a NASB

The point of the chapter is supported, highlighted, and suggests a gentle lesson in humility. We learn something of Moses, and something of how Yahweh worked with him, and possibly us.

The relationship between Zipporah and Moses isn’t the point. The names of Moses’ sons isn’t the point. The point is that Yahweh teaches Moses through someone, possibly a new convert (see Ex. 18:10-12). Moses is willing to be taught, willing to learn. He could assume he knew better than this new upstart priest. He could have been bitter toward the protector of Moses bitter ex-wife, the one keeping his sons from him. But he wasn’t. He learned instead.

So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.

Exodus 18:24 NASB

Are we willing to learn from people who may be painful for us to be around? Who has hurt you? Moses’ family was a mess, and he welcomes his father-in-law. His wife came with his two sons, one of whom we didn’t even know about (was she pregnant when she left Egypt?), so how much time has Moses had with him? We know so little about the emotions around this meeting other than the obvious respect and love Moses has for Jethro. Your situation may be different. Your family may be even more messed up than Moses’. But still, do you truly have an excuse to hold onto your resentment, and refuse to listen to the person through whom God is speaking to you?

Ask yourself, “What lesson am I missing from my Master, Jesus, because I won’t listen to someone through He speaks?” That’s a long question, so, don’t feel like you need to recite it word-for-word, just get the gist of it. What lesson, and blessing, are you missing because of your resentment? Where has your pride kept you from the work and blessing the Holy Spirit wants you to live out? It’s not just about you. Remember, that our Master wants to use you in the lives of those around you to bring His light, joy, and peace into their lives. So, who are you harming because of your stubbornness?

It’s time to put the pride, resentment, and stubbornness aside, take your seat at the little desk in the classroom of our King, and let His instructor finish the lesson. Study hard. It will be worth it.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Staff/Banner of God

Have you ever thought about God having “enemies” among His human creatures? Sure, Satan/Devil/Accuser, we think of that creature being the enemy of God. But what about people? Have you thought about entire people-groups being considered enemies of God? For some reason, it seems beneath God to have human enemies, and yet, He does:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner; and he said, “ The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”

Exodus 17:14-16

A lot happens in this short paragraph: God makes a solemn oath, Moses writes it down to be remembered, builds an altar named for God, and God declares war against a particular people. Amalek is a nomadic people roaming the desert looking for pasture land, and there’s Israel in a spot normally bereft of water, but suddenly with water streaming from a rock. Perfect! A great place to pasture flocks, but there’s not enough for both, and so Amalek wants his territory back. This isn’t the promised land, this is Sinai Peninsula, far south of the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why so vehement? Why is God so angry?

Amalek descends from Esau, like Edom. But while Edom settled into cities, Amalek remained nomadic. Even so, that’s not what irritates their Creator. It’s possible, while not stated, that Amalek came looking for the people who just escaped from Egypt. They’re moving about slowly, from watering hole to watering hole, until Rephidim. Now they have them, waterless means powerless! Except they’re not. Essentially they’re beaten by an old guy raising a stick in the air. It’s humiliating. But it serves them right for chasing down and attacking God’s chosen people, their relatives.

It’s very possible that God is angry with Amalek because they should have known better. Later on, in Malachi, God declares that He chose between Edom and Israel, another of Esau’s children. It is important to know why God has made this people His enemy. In a way, those following Jesus as His disciples are also the people of God, just not exactly like Israel. We have been redeemed from the world forming a “third thing”, a distinct people, grafted into the promises of God to Israel. So, in a way, we might more easily see ourselves as the people attacked by those who should know better.

That can happen. Our culture is antithetical to the purpose of our Creator and Savior. There are places within our nation where it is considered illegal to worship. Any such stance is at odds with the intent and wording of the first amendment to our US Constitution. Yet, the popular voice shouts us down and seeks to destroy our faith. And yet, our Savior is also our Banner. Jesus will refer to the serpent Moses raises for the healing of the people, and that is, in a sense, a banner. Jesus is our Banner as we are attacked by this culture. His ways, His teaching, and most importantly, His Spirit are ours, meaning we cannot be defeated as long as we raise Him up.

The difficulty of striving with our society, culture, what is popular, and what is acceptable is made possible through Jesus, His Spirit, and His power of resurrection at work in us. We stand, raising the Banner, Jesus is Yah! It is He who saved Israel from Egypt, and He who saves all a remnant of all people for Himself. We are redeemed and we hold Him up, declaring boldly that Jesus is King. In that we win, even in losing this world. As Paul reminds us, this world is passing away, so let it go, raise our banner, and gain the world to come, the new heaven and new earth, the city not made by human hands. How will you raise your Banner today?

What’s With The Staff?

Have you ever thought about a passage of Scripture, that it seemed…weird? If not, then have you been reading the Scripture? There’s a lot of weirdness in it. If you don’t agree, well, you may have problems deeper than can be addressed here. If we’re agreed that there’s a lot of weirdness in Scripture than, let’s look at one in Exodus.

The setting is that Amalek attacks the sons of Israel. Moses has a day’s warning of what’s coming, so he makes a plan with Joshua. Here’s the plan:

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

Exodus 17:8-9

In theory, or if you stopped reading right there, it’s already weird. But it’s also dramatic. This is the staff that brought forth water from a rock, turned the Nile to blood, and parted the Red Sea when Moses waved it over the waters. Now, we’re left wondering, “What will Moses do with it now?” And then it’s kind of an underwhelming tactic.

Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.

Exodus 17:10-11

So, the staff, held high by Moses Israel is stronger than Amalek, but when Moses’ arms grow tired, and he lowers the staff, Amalek is stronger. That’s just weird. Why would that be the thing that makes the difference, the strength of Moses’ arms?

Do you ever feel like that, like it’s all up to you? Have you felt that God took His hands off the tiller, and suddenly you are sailing solo through the storm? Moses had to feel pretty confused about this, doing as He was instructed (who would think of that on their own?), and Amalek prevails whenever the stupid stick gets too heavy. Well, how could it not?

Try this, get a walking stick, of any type, carbon-fiber if you like, it doesn’t matter. Now hold it out in front of you with your arms straight, and see how long you can do it. That’s the longest Moses could, in his own strength, enable Israel to prevail. If you want the short answer, it’s not long enough.

But, part of the instruction included Hur and Aaron. It wasn’t just Moses and the staff of God. And the reason that’s so important is this:

But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Exodus 17:12-13

Now, remember the previous question, “Have you ever felt that it was all up to you?” It never is. It does feel that way though, we even try to make it work with just us. But, think it through, why would our Creator and Savior create and save you only to make it all about you? What would that accomplish? It’s never about you, me, or even our favorite people. It’s about our Creator and Savior, and it’s about Him because He’s not done creating and saving! There are others out there who need Him, and you have been created and saved to be used to bring those into relationship with the Creator.

So, it isn’t always easy to spot the Aaron and Hur in our life. We find it way too easy to focus on ourselves and our perspectives, desires, and theories. The truth is much more interesting. Our Creator and Savior has created and saved us to be a part of a multitude no one can count. A multitude He redeems from every people-group that has ever existed. So, look around you. Where is your “Aaron”? Who is your “Hur”? Don’t try to raise the banner of our Savior on your own. We overcome together, raising the banner of our King.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation