God Causes Thirst

God is good, all the time; and all the time, God is good. But, I wonder if too often we don’t truly understand what “good” means. Could it be possible that our loving heavenly Father would lead us somewhere where our needs cannot be met? Would He truly bring us to a place where there is no water, no food, and no way to provide for them?

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

(Exodus 17:1-3 NASB)

Notice that the people moved along, from place to place, at the command of the LORD. Literally, they pulled up stakes and encamped as the mouth of Yahweh. Either way, clearly, Yahweh, their Deliverer, Redeemer, and Savior led them to a place without water. Sure, they were being fed with manna, and quail. Yet, without water all that food is pointless.

On the other hand, there is no natural explanation for the manna. They called it “manna” because that means, “what is it?” in Hebrew. There was nothing like it before, or since. Yahweh did something that enforced their dependence upon Him for their food. Why, then, would they assume that the powerful Yahweh could produce miracle food, but not water?

The answer lies in verse 3, “But the people thirsted there for water…” Yahweh, the provider of food, led them to a place without water, and let them go without until they were thirsty. He didn’t immediately meet their need. Think through that for a second. We assume we know what it means for God to be “good”, yet does your definition of “good” include Him leading you to where there is no way to meet your need, and letting you go without for a while?

That’s the problem with reading this passage so quickly. It sounds so familiar. Of course the sons of Israel would test Yahweh. They were obstinate and rebellious. But wouldn’t you be rebellious if you were led to a waterless wasteland, and were left thirsty? We are so quick to point fingers at the people of Israel, and criticize them for how they behaved with the miracle-working Yahweh. Yet, do we learn from them? Do we see ourselves in these people, so much a part of the world? How well do we do when we can’t see the provision of our Savior for our daily bread?

In order to learn the lesson of Exodus, we must be willing to see ourselves as the people of Israel. We have to stop criticizing them for their sin, and repent of our own. God has a point He was making back when this book was penned. He had a point He was making when the events actually happened. And He has a point for us today. We miss that point when we see these passages as ancient and having no value to us today.

The truth is, we also see our circumstances and question God. We test our God to see if He is truly with us. We quarrel, we murmur, we push back at those our King has placed over us, questioning whether they are valid, whether the message they carry is true, in effect, whether Yahweh is with us. As it was true then, so remains: Yahweh leads us to places without water, and allows us to thirst. We may test Him, or we may allow Him to test us. We can choose to believe that the Savior who allows us to thirst remains good, all the time.

Are you thirsty? Are you lacking a need? Is there something you expected your Savior to provide, but which He has allowed you to go without? How will you respond? How will you choose to either test your Savior, or permit Him to test you? What will it mean for you to allow your King to test you? And what will you do to “pass” His test?


What Were You Thinking?

Predictable: It’s not what you want from your story plot. Who wants to be thought of as a predictable writer? Unless, of course, you’re Moses, then you want predictability. Or, at least, it seems that he does. In chapter 5 of Exodus, we have the first encounter between Moses and Pharaoh, and it’s not exactly what Moses was hoping for. But the reader is expecting something precisely like this.

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:1-2 NASB

But why? Why is the reader not surprised, but Moses seems to be? Perhaps you’re not sure he is. Okay, then review Moses’ two responses, the first one in verse 3 and the second in verses 22 and 23:

Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, otherwise He will fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

Exodus 5:3 NASB

Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.”

Exodus 5:22-23 NASB

The surprising thing about Moses being surprised is that God has already told him that Pharaoh will not let the sons of Israel leave willingly:

“They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.

Exodus 3:18-20 NASB

And yet, Moses seems surprised by Pharaoh’s response. Which is surprising, or it should be. But think back to the discussion Moses and God were having. It was choppy, and Moses kept asking “what if…” questions, and making excuses. Is it possible that Moses stopped listening to God somewhere in the middle of God’s explanation?

Surely, we never do that. Who would refuse to give a burning bush their entire attention, and listen to every single word said? A burning bush has never spoken to you? Then, perhaps there is a danger you didn’t listen to everything your Savior has told you? Let’s be honest, this happens a lot. We will often find a nugget in Scripture, and run, excited about our discovered promise, and charge into a new ministry without listening to the whole… Wait, not you?

Oh, then perhaps we’re more like Moses, formulating our next protest rather than listening to God’s next detail? We read that passage of Scripture that’s supposed to launch us into a ministry, but excuse ourselves because we’re sure it’s for someone else. Still not you? You do read the Bible, right? One of those two things should happen. Either you read and become inspired to act, or you read, and excuse yourself from acting. If you’re not sure, then, by default, you fall into the second one. I’m there a lot with you, so, we can be embarrassed together.

Let’s be honest, we do that. We’re often Moses: surprised that what God told us would happen, actually happens. In this chapter Pharaoh sounds like a parent or mean teacher at school. He ramps up the work because we seem to have time to complain, therefore not enough work to keep us busy. Those of you who have been through basic training in the military should recognize this tactic.

Pharaoh’s response is common sense. Moses’ surprise is not. Our surprise is not. Not paying attention to the Creator of the universe isn’t smart, and we do it all the time. The real blessing in all of this is that God isn’t surprised. He doesn’t berate Moses, look at chapter 6 verse 1. God seems to know Moses wasn’t listening, or, at least He’s not surprised.

He is that way with us as well. When the consequences of not listening to our Creator come to haunt us, God is right there, ready to continue working with us. We excuse ourselves from service, we suffer some sort of loss, and suddenly, there is our Savior, coming alongside to help us minister to others. Oh wait, not you? Seriously? Have you never complained loudly to your Savior? Okay, then, when you did, He listened. Did you? Or, like me at times, did you stomp off and pout first? Either way, He listened, and He is ready to use you again.

How do I know? I wrote this blog entry. And right now, if you’re thinking about God using you in His Kingdom, then, even though I shouted and pouted, God used me in your life. If He is willing to use me, then you’re a shoe-in.

Where’s the Proof?

Egyptology is a remarkably new area of study for archaeology. That’s not to say that people haven’t been digging up and examining places and things within Egypt. What I mean is that any understanding of the language of hieroglyphics is relatively recent (1800). The languages of Mesopotamia and India were already well understood by the time that the Rosetta Stone was discovered.

One of the problems with placing the Exodus account in a historical context is that there seems to be no record of Hebrews or “sons of Israel” in Egypt among the surviving records. So, we have to look at clues within Exodus to attempt to guess at the time frame. There are a lot of different theories, counter-theories, and suggestions of timing. And there are are many who simply consider the Exodus to have never happened at all.

One of the clues is found in Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (NASB) Again, there are a lot of theories about who this might have been. There is a period of Egyptian history when they were ruled by foreigners known as “Hyksos“, about whom we know very little. The best guess is that the Joseph and the Exodus took place either during, or shortly after this period. But, there remains the problem of the lack of record.

The lack of record of the Hebrews in Egypt or any such departure of a huge population from Egypt is the normal argument against the historicity of the biblical account (Google it, you won’t find one argument against Exodus being a historical event that isn’t based on the lack of reference to Israel). But there are reasons why this lack of evidence isn’t that surprising.

For instance, the Egyptians are well-known historical revisionists. Every book on Egyptology makes mention of one dynasty erasing or modifying elements or references to previous ones. The hieroglyphic writings were most often painted, and while durable, were also often painted over, or removed.

Add to this problem that Egypt, as a geographical reference, has been occupied by one or more people groups, successively and continuously, for almost 6,000 years. There has to be a lot of records either removed, reused, destroyed, or simply remaining to be found. In other words, the lack of evidence has many possible, and very plausible, explanations.

Essentially, no one can either prove or disprove the historicity of the Exodus using available archaeological records from Egypt. The Hebrew Scriptures remain the best record we have for the event of a million or so ethnic Hebrews leaving the land of Egypt to sojourn in the desert wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula.

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

X Marks the Spot

There is a structure in Hebrew poetry referred to as “chiastic parallelism“.  It was used to emphasize whatever was put in the center, the “crux” of the structure.  It might be that this structure was used in these verses.  Sort of, any way.  There’s a piece in the center that seems to be missing, the “parallel” part.

Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who  ere around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.  So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. (Judges 2:11-13 NASB)

English translation, as a process, can obscure literary structures and devices.  It’s mostly unavoidable.  Puns and rhymes simply don’t translate very well.  Other things might translate somewhat more easily.  Some English translations of these verses do well, others, not so much.  The New American Standard has all the elements, and they’re even grouped by punctuation somewhat.  The ESV preserves the elements, but the NIV obscures them.  The NLT makes it difficult by not repeating the elements very closely, but the NKJV does a good job of preserving terms.

So, here are the elements:

The sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD:
A.   They served the Baals
B.   They abandoned (forsook) the LORD
C.   They followed other gods
X.   They bowed themselves down to them
C’.  They provoked the LORD to anger
B’.  They abandoned (forsook) the LORD
A’.  They served Baal and Ashtaroth

The X. element would be the focus of this structure.  On the other hand, the C. and C’. elements aren’t exactly “parallel”, and there’s no parallel present for the X. element in the structure.  So, it’s not a perfect “poetic” chiastic parallel structure.  But I believe it’s a good literary chiasm.

If you want a repetition of the X. element, then look at verses 17 and 19.  The author has repeated this indictment twice more.  Clearly though, the repeated theme of the chapter (and, indeed, this two-chapter prelude) is the failure to take the land from the Canaanites.  Yet, within this smaller element, verses 11 through 23, the repetition of the worship of other gods is unmistakable.

Notice that this section is, itself, bracketed by indictments about the people not taking the land, and that God will no longer drive out the people.  It is, in itself, somewhat chiastic in placement, if not in parallel structure.  It’s as if the author wants his audience to know that the point of the book is about taking the land, but the point of our lives is the worship of God.  That may be a lot to draw from a single passage, and maybe saying the “point of our lives” is overstating the intent of the author.  But, maybe not.  This important literary element is clearer here than elsewhere in this “prelude”, so, perhaps, it’s exactly what the author is saying.

The failure to drive out the Canaanites does set the stage for the rest of the conflict in Judges.  But the worship of their gods by the children of Israel is the constant problem that eventually results in the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylon.  Even after the conquest is complete under David and Solomon, the problem of worship of other gods persists.  It makes sense, then, that this prophet, penning the history of Yahweh and His people, would make worship of other gods a central issue for his audience.  It’s the common element between his audience, and the people in the time of the judges.

But it’s our common element as well.  The point for us remains the same as the point for the people who first read and heard these words.  What do we “bow ourselves down” to?  What’s most important to us?  Is obedience to our Savior?  Is He truly our “Lord”?  Or, are we content to be “saved”, living in His grace and mercy, forsaking the change of our minds and paradigm.  Yahweh told His people to be different than the peoples in the land, and to drive them off.  We have been called to be different as well.  Will we, instead, adopt the “gods” of the people of the land?  Or will we be obedient? Will we adopt the paradigm of our Savior, the whole paradigm, not just the parts culturally acceptable?

Challenge accepted?

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

I Am “These People”

I’m spending time in prayer while reviewing Judges 10, and I stopped thinking about “them”, and started confessing from my own life, and, WHAM!  There was this collision of my life and “these people” that shook me up…

Continue reading “I Am “These People””

No Thumbs

They found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and fought against him, and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes.  Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.” So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there. (Judges 1:5-7 NASB)

History is one of those fields of study that vainly attempts a scientific approach, but which always fails to avoid a good story.  After all, it’s the story of a culture that is the object of any anthropological study.  Unfortunately, people can be distracted by the details and miss the point.  I think that’s what happens way too often to this story.

Adoni-Bezek (or Adonai-Bezeq), is a person we can’t find.  The city of Bezek was found (we think), but it’s not in Judah’s territory.  At the end of this account, this king is taken to Jerusalem.  I mention that because in Joshua, which most of Judges 1 repeats, there is a king referred to as Adonai-Zedek who is the king of Jerusalem.  Maybe, though there’s no real evidence, there was a simple misspelling of the name, and this account in Judges refers to the same king in Joshua.  I suggest this for two reasons.

First, Jerusalem is the city of Salem mentioned in Genesis 14.  Melchizedek brought bread and wine out to Abraham after he rescued Lot, and Abraham gave him a tithe.  Melchizedek was referred to as “king of Salem”, and “priest of God Most High”.  So, this priest worships the same God as Abraham.  The name of this peculiar character is most often translated as “king of righteousness”.  I believe the name combines the two roles, priest and king, into one person.

Second, Salem becomes Jerusalem when the Jebusites inhabit it.  At that point this “king/priest” role seems to change, or at least the god worshiped seems to change.  Because when the Sons of Israel show up after 400 years, the people of Jerusalem are not on their side.  The name of this king, Adonai-Bezek (or Adonai-Zedek) uses the term for “lord” instead of “king”. These two titles are not that far apart, so, it would be “lord of Bezek”, or “lord of righteousness”, instead of “king” of whatever.  It’s somewhat semantic in difference.

Notice that this king still remembers the name of Yahweh (Lord).  He knew the God of the Sons of Israel, but didn’t worship Him.  He knew that becoming thumb-less was due to his treatment of others, a judgement on him by the God Most High his city used to worship.  He knew, but too late.  He didn’t act on what he knew.

What do I know, but don’t act on?  I know in Whom I have believed, and I too am persuaded that He is faithful.  I know that what I have entrusted to Him, He will keep until we meet in eternity.  But do I live that way?  Do I behave as if this is true, that I am persuaded of it?  How confident am I in my Master that He truly has my back, and that He loves me?  How much am I at His service?  Would people with whom I work know that about me?  Would the ones with whom I speak on the phone pick up on that?

The return on the investment of my life in my Master isn’t an improvement in my immediate surroundings.  The return on the investment of my life in my Master is in a changed lifestyle.  He changes me by my close association with Him.  It’s not that I try to be better, or kinder, or more polite.  By association, He changes me into someone who is simply more like Him.  Or, at least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening.  Sometimes I wonder.

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?