The Point of the Pain

It never fails to surprise me, I start studying some familiar passage in Scripture, and WHAM! I find something new. Part of that is because I begin by translation, but what that practice does is force me to slow down, and pay very close attention to the text. The real shocking stuff is not made up of the linguistic details, but the mundane stuff.

Here’s a great example, I found it in Exodus 9, buried in the middle of the “plagues” or, more accurately, the signs and wonders. Yahweh has turned staffs into a snake fight, turned the Nile to blood, inundated Egypt with frogs, sent lice or gnats, a swarm of something, a pestilence on livestock, and really nasty boils. Sometimes Pharaoh steels himself against Yahweh, and, at other times, Yahweh steels Pharaoh against Himself. It’s been weird, to say the least. Finally, after these signs and wonders, Yahweh gives Pharaoh an explanation of what’s going on. And, therefore, giving insight to us as well.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go. Behold, about this time tomorrow, I will send a very heavy hail, such as has not been seen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Now therefore send, bring your livestock and whatever you have in the field to safety. Every man and beast that is found in the field and is not brought home, when the hail comes down on them, will die.”‘”

Exodus 9:13-19 NASB

Read that passage slowly. Notice the main point of Yahweh: To show His power and proclaim His name in all the earth. All of these “plagues”, people and animals dying, the land ruined, the river polluted, were all to glorify Himself in a foreign land, among a people who deny His existence. Set aside for a moment your 21st-Century sensibilities that cause you to abhor all the death and destruction. Notice He gives than a choice to avoid danger. He explicitly says He doesn’t want to destroy them. What Yahweh wants is for the Egyptians to know Him. They worship everything and everyone EXCEPT Yahweh. Yet He wants them. Don’t let your modern world view let you miss that.

Think about the following:

  • Egyptians believed in a creator, but worshiped created things and gods
    • Our culture knows of a Creator and may even acknowledge His existence but have no time for, or interest in Him.
  • Egyptians sought to appease the spiritual aspects of the physical world: god of the Nile, goddess of fertility of soil and animals, god of the sun, and so on.
    • Our culture is inordinately focused on the physical, yet metaphysically explaining its existence, and our care for it, even to the point of “sacrificing” human life.
  • Yahweh sought to make Himself known to the Egyptians, leaving their society and economy in complete upheaval. He loved them enough to let nothing stop Him from reaching out to them.
    • Our culture, in total rebellion against our Creator, is desperately loved by Him. That means each person, regardless of their regard for Him.
    • What will He have to do to get their attention?

That person in line at the supermarket with you, you know the one. The one who has the wrong payment method, a thousand groceries, and a bad attitude. Yeah, that one, Jesus died for them. What about the jerk on the freeway with you who seems more familiar with his horn than his brake? Yep, him too. Crowded subways are full of these rebellious people loved by their Creator. We work with them, go to school with them, run in the park around them. They want nothing to do with their Savior, but He wants everything about them.

And here we are in Goshen, the faithful to Yahweh, the Lord Jesus Christ, watching them go their merry way. We know the truth, but live as if it’s not true. It’s me, and probably you. The excuses are many and varied, but pointless. Why wait for plagues and signs and wonders? Why not spare who we can by standing up, and being different, and being bold? Love them. Our Savior does. He went to a humiliating public torturous death for them. Where will we stop short? He rose from the grave, ascended to heaven, and sent His Spirit to empower us. What excuse will cause us to hold back from these rebels?

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


Signs and Wonders

Where is the sense of witnessing something impossibly amazing if you can’t make sense of it? That question doesn’t make any sense. If it’s an impossibly amazing something, then it would, by definition, evade rational sense. Yet, we attempt to grapple with the incomprehensible, wrestling it into a comprehensible form. I’m guilty of that all the time. I have to force myself to reverse the process, seeing what appears to be comprehensible for the amazing incomprehensible thing it actually is.

In Scripture, there are things that God describes as “signs and wonders”. They are supposed to demonstrate some of His qualities to which His human creatures will respond with worship. One of the most surprising elements of these signs and wonders is how often they fail to inspire worship. Eleven times, Yahweh demonstrates His power to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and eleven times, he rails against Yahweh. And, after all he has lost, there is still no acknowledgement of Yahweh in Egypt.

Of course, the sons of Israel, they get it, right? They understand and respond to Yahweh in worship. You would think, wouldn’t you? And yet they are complaining, whining, rebellious, and twisted followers of Yahweh. They witness all Yahweh does on their behalf to bring them out of Egypt, and they still rebel in the wilderness, even at the foot of the dramatic storm-topped mountain of God. Lightning, thunder, dark clouds, and fire top the mountain, under which they get Aaron to build an idol… So, they didn’t get the point of the signs and wonders either.

Scholars argue over whether there are natural explanations for the plagues. Some wonder if there are direct correlations to the gods of Egypt. Some, but not enough to explain all the signs and wonders. Yahweh claims He is executing judgements against the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12), and yet, the connections between these acts and the pantheon of the time make little sense.

To be fair, it’s not even clear what each sign/wonder actually is. For instance, the “lice” or “gnats” are a term only used in this plague, whether in Exodus or Psalm references. The swarm could be flies, but is really just a swarm. The darkness is really just that. What could they be? No one truly knows for sure. It’s frustrating to look back 3,000 years through such a blurry lens. Yet, it’s all we have, and we can be sure that Yahweh planned it that way. That should help us be okay with not knowing, but it doesn’t.

So, what do we do with plagues we can’t explain? What do we do with signs and wonders that are supposed to illuminate worshipful qualities of Yahweh if we can’t understand them? What’s the point again? The signs and wonders were supposed to do what, again? Illustrate the qualities of Yahweh to His human creatures. That includes us. So, what’s the problem? We know what they are for, and we know what our response is supposed to be. Read about the frogs, read about the gnats or lice, and read about the swarms of whatever. And, having read, worship the One causing such signs and wonders. Worship the One drawing people to Himself through such miracles.

If Yahweh judges the gods of Egypt, then we know He strikes blows in spiritual warfare against those elements of culture opposed to His sovereignty. That will happen to our elements opposed to Him. If Yahweh used natural catastrophes to demonstrate His power over His creation, we can expect Him do so again in our day. And, He probably has, a lot. Now, when we see these things, let us worship the One demonstrating His power among us, drawing us to acknowledge Him. It’s not rocket surgery.

Jesus was crucified, and the earth shook, the sun was darkened, and dead people rose from their graves and entered Jerusalem. It’s not just the stuff of the Hebrew Scriptures, it’s the same One in the Christian Scriptures, still reaching out to His human creatures. Let us respond in worship. The veil of the temple was torn, top to bottom. Let us worship Him.

He calls us, today, to come and worship. You see an amazing sunset, worship Him. And when the wind destroys a house, or wipes out entire neighborhoods, worship Him. When the storm waves rage and floods destroy, worship Him. Hail strikes, worship Him. Because He is calling to us, through the acts of power of His creation, to worship the One having created us. When the sun shines, and the land is green, worship Him. He calls us to worship our Creator, because our Creator is also our Savior.