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


Striking Similarities

Why can’t our Creator be consistent? Wouldn’t it be nice if He followed his own rules, worked the same way with everyone every time, and didn’t change His mind? And yet, what works for His people in one place doesn’t in another. For instance, in Exodus 17, Moses can strike the rock to bring forth water, but, later, in Numbers 20, striking the rock is the sin that keeps Moses from entering the promised land. What’s the difference?

So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?”

Exodus 17:4-7 NASB

In Exodus 17, Yahweh tells Moses to strike the rock (v.6). Yahweh gave different instructions in Numbers 20:

Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and afell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take athe rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.”

Numbers 20:6-8 NASB

In this passage, Yahweh instructed Moses to speak to the rock. It’s a similar situation, with a different set of instructions. Moses, on the other hand, sees this as a similar situation, and chooses to use the instructions from last time:

So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.

Numbers 20:9-11 NASB

Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses strikes the rock twice with the staff, much like last time. Bad idea. For Yahweh, this is sufficient to keep Moses from entering the promised land. That may sound harsh, but look at Yahweh’s reasoning:

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”

Numbers 20:12 NASB

The methods our Creator uses differ. He decides to do one thing one way at one time, in one place. And then, does the same thing a different way at a different time in a different place. It’s the same thing? Why not use the same technique? Jesus doesn’t heal everyone one of the same disease the same way. He doesn’t use the same stories with everyone. Why not? Why is our Savior so inconsistent?

Moses didn’t believe Yahweh. This Savior changes His methods so we will focus on Him, not the methods. It’s not about how we can get what we want/need, it’s about the Creator providing for us what we need/want. Jesus didn’t want His disciples following His methods of healing, He wanted them to heal in His name, which is a very different thing.

Moses didn’t treat Yahweh as holy before the people. Yahweh had given Moses specific instructions, and Moses decided to do something else, as if whatever Yahweh said was optional, not imperative. This is disobedient, but also treats Yahweh as common, and not as separate, or holy. Jesus’ disciples healed, but in the name of Jesus. They treated Him as holy. The point here is the focus.

Yahweh-Jesus wants us, His people, to reserve Him as separate from all other relationships. He wants us to acknowledge that the source for everything we have is Him. He reserves to Himself a place above all of our other relationships, and this is how it should be. Jesus claims that unless we hate every other earthly relationship, including with ourselves, we cannot be His disciple. Yahweh says as much here in these passages. But He also says something else, in fact, He shouts it.

Yahweh brought forth water anyway. The people were disobedient, and then Moses was disobedient, and Yahweh remained faithful. Our obedience is not the basis for our Savior’s faithfulness. It’s weird to think about it that way, but it’s clear throughout Scripture. As the writer of Hebrews says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.” It’s not obedience, it’s belief and reserving Jesus as holy. That’s the substance of faith. And then faith leads us to be obedient.

So, what will you do today to believe your Savior, Jesus? What will you do today to treat Him as holy among His people? Will you stand courageously even though you’re afraid? Will you refuse to bow to the whims of our culture, and declare Jesus as Lord? What would that look like for you?

As for me, it means doing the thing I’d rather not do around the house. It means not playing, but washing dishes, mowing the lawn, and being about cherishing my wife.

What is your view through this knothole?

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?

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.

What’s With All The Snakes?

I’m not a fan of snakes, of any type. It’s not a paralyzing phobia, I’m simply cautious because I know I don’t know the benign from the dangerous. But even the benign aren’t favorites things of mine. So, when I read that Yahweh changes Moses’ staff into a snake, it’s not my favorite method of God’s work.

The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” And he said, “A staff.” Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail “– so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand–

Exodus 4:2-4 NASB

Yes, I wish Yahweh hadn’t chosen to use a snake. He does it again as the sons of Israel are traveling in the desert too.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.”

Numbers 21:8 NASB

An additional piece of dubious historical irony, according to Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, Moses had used serpents to defeat the Ethiopians for the Egyptians while he was still among the court of Pharaoh (Antiquities of the Jews, II:10:2). So, why is he scared when the staff becomes a snake? Maybe because he didn’t have a bird to protect him this time?

Snakes factor into Egyptian mythology as well. Unfortunately their myths don’t produce a simple easy explanation for Yahweh’s use before Pharaoh. For instance, Pharaoh’s crown, the pschent (probably not their word), has a representation of a serpent on it, which refers to the goddess Wadjet, the protector of Lower Egypt.

But the great evil opponent of the sun-god, Ra, was Apophis, a serpent, sort of a “sea-serpent” living in the chaotic waters surrounding the world. Think, Leviathan, and you’re in the right area. So, serpents can be good or bad in Egyptian mythology. In fact, one of Ra’s protectors is a serpent named, Mehen. You can find a fairly decent article on Apophis here.

So, Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh, and Aaron throws down his staff. Dramatically, it becomes a serpent. What is a Pharaoh to do? He calls for his magicians, and they do the same, each man throws his staff, and they become serpents too. Yahweh’s serpent challenge is met, and He’s out numbered. But what does it mean? What should Pharaoh conclude from this, because serpents can be good or bad, so how does he know?

Aaron’s staff swallows the staffs of the magicians. So, in a sense, the protectors of the king, Wadjet, is defeated by another serpent, who must therefore be Apophis. All it probably took is for one of the magicians to speak that name, and now Moses and Aaron are of Apophis, the enemy of order and the gods of Egypt. And, that’s kind of true, from one perspective, just not the whole truth. Regardless, Pharaoh refuses to listen to them.

Judging this passage from a modern western thought mindset could be blinding us from the message of our Creator. We seem to think that, because his magicians could duplicate what Moses and Aaron did, Pharaoh wasn’t “impressed”. But think about that. If impressing Pharaoh were the point, then the consumption of his magicians staffs should have accomplished this, and Pharaoh’s response confuses us. There must be something we’re missing.

What if Yahweh is demonstrating something to Pharaoh, something that will take 11 miracles to fully communicate? Yahweh calls what He’s doing “judgements” (see Exodus 7:4). They are “signs and wonders” (see Exodus 7:3), but they are also “judgements”. Later on, when the angel of death takes the firstborn and passes over Israel, Yahweh says this:

For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments— I am the LORD.

Exodus 12:12 NASB (emphasis mine)

These judgements are “against the gods of Egypt”. So, consider for a moment, all gods are real. Pharaoh’s gods are such that serpents can be either protectors or enemies. One comes in the name of a god you don’t know, and his staff becomes a serpent. What do you do? Is it a good or evil serpent, and how do you tell? You call your own powerful magicians, and they turn their staffs into serpents, protector serpents. What happens next tells you what you want to know. This one in the name of the unknown god has a serpent that devours your protector serpents. It must be the evil serpent, and righteously, you refuse their demands. Order prevails, and your gods are pleased with you for fighting with them against this serpent of chaos.

By itself, this act of power looks like Yahweh has aligned Himself with the evil of Egypt, and He has, because the gods of Egypt have aligned themselves against Him. And now, because He is the One True God, He executes judgements against them, and takes away their validity, revealing them for what they are, rebellious servants of Yahweh.

Okay, so that might make a decent movie or exciting fantasy book for nerds and comic book fans. But we’re modern scientific rationalists, what’s the message for us? Well, rationally speaking, this world is upside down. Right is now decried as wrong. Wrong is held up as the highest form of good, and the people holding to belief in our Savior are considered worse than evil, we’re stupid evil people. The beliefs and practices of Scripture are ridiculed, and legislated against. We are sojourners in an unholy land.

But all of this opposition is actually spiritual in nature, the product of these spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). What we, as modern rational believers, need to know is that this spiritual war is between our Savior and those rebels opposed to Him. What we witness is a form of what Moses and Aaron stood up against, and we need to be, as they were, obediently opposing those forces.

It might look like we’re evil in our culture/society’s sight. They may call us evil, but remember the words of Paul in Galatians 5:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law

Galatians 5:22-23 NASB

Our response to this evil and perverse generation is one of love, not anger. Paul was followed about by a slave-girl possessed by a spirit of divination in Philippi. He wasn’t angry with her, and he didn’t fight her or abuse her. He was worn out after many days, and cast out the demon (Acts 16:16-18). In the same way, we need to address our attacks to the spiritual forces of darkness, and not at the people.

Notice the serpent of Aaron’s staff didn’t attack Pharaoh or his servants. It attacked and consumed the other staffs, the expressions of power of those in rebellious opposition to Yahweh. But Pharaoh doesn’t get it, not yet. And many of those who oppose us will not get it either. Even when we address our attacks against the spiritual forces rather than the people, we will still not get the appreciation or understanding of people.

We, like Moses and Aaron, like Paul and Silas, like Stephen, and like our Savior, Jesus, cannot allow the praise of others to direct our actions. I need this lesson as much as, if not more than, anyone. Because it’s easy to let the praise of others become our measure of success. It’s hard to be misunderstood, and not rail against it. And yet, there is no real victory, no lasting peace, unless we follow in the path of our Savior and His servants ahead of us. It is truly a narrow way.

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.

Why The Fuss?

Has God ever done something that simply makes no sense to you? In our lives, much that happens to us, or even around us, is inexplicable. And, in Scripture, every now and then, we stumble onto an instance where the actions of our Creator and Savior make little sense to us. There is one of those in Exodus 4.

Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood “– because of the circumcision.

Exodus 4:24-26 NASB

This happens immediately following a side comment by God to Moses as Moses is preparing to head back to Egypt. There God explains why He intends to eventually kill the firstborn of Egypt. This will eventually be the final “plague”, and later, it will not have this explanation. The verses above pickup the account of Moses as he is on the way back to Egypt.

Like most commentators admit, there is no certainty about why God meets Moses along the way to kill (literally, cause someone to die). In fact, it’s not certain that God meets Moses specifically, but, rather, “him”. It’s the third person singular male pronoun rather than a specific person. The pronoun isn’t emphasized, but is the suffix of the verb “to meet”. That’s not truly helpful though. The problem is that grammatically, it makes more sense to understand that the pronoun has Moses as its antecedent than someone else. That may be confusing but there were other males with Moses, two specifically.

We’re told later that Moses has a second son, Eliezer. And the previous reference to Moses leaving his father-in-law says that he put his “sons” on a donkey, not just one. While his firstborn son, Gershom, we already know of, Eliezer hasn’t been mentioned yet. In fact, Exodus isn’t very forthcoming about Moses family-by-marriage. So, the third-person singular male pronoun could be either one of Moses’ sons, the one Moses’ wife, Zipporah, circumcises. But that’s not as clear as we’d like. It makes a certain amount of sense, though.

Circumcision is a practice of both the sons of Israel and Egyptians. Uncircumcised males were ostracized by both groups (Genesis 17:14). But the penalty for uncircumcision wasn’t death. So, even so, this seems peculiar behavior for the One having sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver the sons of Israel.

So, what does this reveal to us about the One calling us to His purposes, to His plans, and what He deems important? For one thing, He takes His callings and invitations to us very seriously. This seems to be a matter of life and death to God. For another, He is a serious God. Our Creator doesn’t take His relationship with us lightly, nor should we take it lightly. Our relationship with our Creator is life and death business. Think of this statement by Paul:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of  knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and  the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7 — 11 (NASB)

It’s easy to ignore the clear uncertainty in Paul’s wording in verse 11, but maybe we shouldn’t. Perhaps Paul senses something in his relationship with Jesus that we miss or conveniently ignore. Maybe, for Paul, his relationship with Jesus is a matter of life and death. Look what he says immediately following:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12 — 14 (NASB)

Notice Paul repeats his view that he hasn’t obtained the resurrection yet. It could be that Paul is pointing out the obvious, that Jesus hasn’t returned yet. But isn’t it more realistic that Paul is pointing out that He does not consider himself qualified for the resurrection? Review the context again, does it sound like he is referring to Jesus appearing? Or have we assumed it’s a reference to Jesus’ return because the alternative is so unsettling? Maybe this One with Whom we have to do is more serious than we think. It seems Paul took Him very seriously.

Perhaps you think Paul is a bit overly fanatical for your tastes. Perhaps you prefer to rely on Jesus’ teaching, as if you will find solace there for this topic. Check out how Luke records the words of Jesus regarding discipleship:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26 NASB

Or perhaps you prefer Matthew:

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39 NASB

Sounds like life and death for Jesus as well. Yahweh seeks to bring death into a family where there is disobedience along the path of obedience. Paul strives as if his life depends on his effort to reach Jesus. Jesus calls his disciples, who have already left home and occupation for Him, to hate every other relationship other than Him, or they are not worthy (Matthew) of Him. It’s serious. God is serious. The relationship we have with Jesus is serious, and it seems like God seeks serious people to relate to. It seems as if this “salvation” in which we live is a matter of life and death now, not just in the future, at a judgement, comfortably far off in the future.

And keep in mind, Moses was on his way, albeit reluctantly, to obey God when he was confronted with death from God. Whatever else it may mean, for whatever other reason may have been present, the inescapable fact is that God sought to cause death within Moses’ family. That was His intent, and He relents when Moses’ wife circumcises their son. They escaped divine disaster by the foreskin of their son.

If this feels creepy, good. If you find this unsettling, that’s probably an indicator you’re finally understanding God better. If you are wondering if you really signed up for the right program, then you are finally getting gist of Luke’s depiction of the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). It’s supposed to be unsettling. Yet, on the other hand, we’re supposed to be focused on making disciples (Matthew 28:19, 20). So, yes, it’s expensive, but, we’re supposed to pony up the cost.

In other words, this unsettling, kind of creepy, Creator of the universe relating to us, not only sacrificed His only Son for this relationship, but expects no less of us. To a bratty selfish entitled culture, that sounds harsh. To so many others around this globe, it makes a lot of sense. For many among the most populous nations of the earth, any expression of faith in Jesus costs them everything. It never occurs to them to take their relationship with Jesus any less serious than He takes it. Maybe it’s time for us to put on a pair of “grown-up-disciple-pants”, lest we too are met along the path of obedience by our Master seeking to cause death.

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

The Inglorious End?

Betrayed by his love for a woman. His eyes gouged out by his enemies. Forced to grind grain like an animal. Yahweh, the God of his people, had abandoned him, leaving him powerless for the first time in his adult life. This is the end of his life. There’s no way out, he’s blind, he’s weak, Yahweh is through with him…or is He?

Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said,
“Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.”
When the people saw him, they praised their god, for they said,
“Our god has given our enemy into our hands,
Even the destroyer of our country,
Who has slain many of us.”
It so happened when they were in high spirits, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may amuse us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he entertained them. And they made him stand between the pillars.  Then Samson said to the boy who was holding his hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.”  Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And about 3,000 men and women were on the roof looking on while Samson was amusing them. (Judges 16:23 — 27 NASB)

The Philistines thought Dagon had defeated Yahweh, giving them the powerful weapon of Yahweh into their hands. From their belief about the cosmos, the spiritual conflict had finally been won by their god. It was time to party! It was time to gloat over the destroyer of their people, the one humiliating their god, Dagon. Now Dagon was the superior, had usurped the divine chief among the gods, and thrown down the pretender to El’s seat, Yahweh! Now Dagon is Elohim! Or so they thought.

Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”  Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left.  And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.  Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (Judges 16:28 — 31 NASB)

Samson is placed in a temple supported by two pillars. The geniuses who brought us the least effective ambush ever, now party in the worst archetecural achievement of man. And, of course, when partying in an unstable structure, always party on the roof…with 3,000 of your closest friends. In way, this is a tremendous statement of faith. We only call it foolishness because they all died, crushed in the temple of their false god.

Notice a few things here. Notice , first, that Samson calls out to Yahweh again. He may have done so before, or he may not have. We’re not told. But he does now. He continues to seek Yahweh, his God. He hasn’t given into the belief that Dagon won, he knows where the failure comes from, he knows who truly failed. That’s the first lesson, keep seeking our Master, regardless of the circumstances.

Secondly, notice Samson acts on what he’s asked for. In fact, technically, he started to act before he even asked. He asked the boy leading him by the hand to let him rest against the two pillars on which the whole temple rested (is “village idiot” too strong a term for this kid?). After he rested against the pillars, then he seeks Yahweh. Samson demonstrates faith in risking action before he has confirmation. Or, is that presumption, assuming Yahweh wants what Samson wants? It’s probably faith. The second lesson is to act on what we ask before God answers. Samson didn’t have to ask whether destroying the temple of Dagon was in Yahweh’s will. That was a no brainer, he simply asked to be the one Yahweh used to do it.

Finally, notice that, in his death, Samson is a more deadly divine weapon. He gave his final breath in service to the purpose of Yahweh for him. He had been the weapon of Yahweh, like it or not. Now, at the end, he is the effective weapon of Yahweh, because he gives himself into the calling. Our final lesson is to surrender to the purpose of our Master for our life. We want to direct our own paths, do what makes sense to us, have what we want or desire, go where we want to go. This is choosing from the wrong tree, when we want the knowledge of good and evil for ourselves. Instead, let’s chose life, and let our Master direct our paths.

That’s my view this morning through this knowhole. What do you see of our Master through yours?

Samson’s Choices

Samson has had some very violent experiences when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him.  It seems that Yahweh’s purpose is to begin to break the hold of the Philistines from on His people.  But Samson isn’t necessarily a willing participant.  Samson, when left to his own choices, seems to first choose a prank, before choosing killing people.

Samson then said to them, “This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm.”  Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned the foxes tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails.  When he had set fire to the torches, he released the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves.  Then the Philistines said, “Who did this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he took his wife and gave her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire. (Judges 15:3-6 NASB)

It’s possible that Samson’s prank went further than he intended, yet, with 300 foxes, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome.  That he was able to catch 300 foxes is impressive, and the results are what we might expect; the entire harvest, plus the groves and vines.  Essentially, Samson impoverished Timnah.

The response of the Philistines is interesting.  They don’t preserve their own, but seem to take Samson’s side.  It’s the Philistine family punished, not Samson for going overboard.  And yet, Samson views this as punishment on him, they’ve killed his…almost wife.  It wasn’t like he was likely to gain her back, not after she was given to another.  He still takes this punishment very personally.

Samson said to them, “Since you act like this, I will surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit.”  He struck them ruthlessly with a great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam. (Judges 15:7-8 NASB)

This is a difficult passage to translate, and, therefore, understand.  Partly because of an idiom, and partly because of the grammar.  But Samson’s self-exile to a cave seems to help choose among options.

The grammar has to do with “if” statements and what he means by “after I will stop”.  The idiom is that Samson struck them “leg on thigh a great stroke”.  The idiom is typically translated interpreting the idiom to mean “ruthlessly” or something like that.

The grammatical interpretations show less interpretation, and more literal choices.  The “if” statements are translated as “since”, which is normal for Semitic language useage.  But, what did Samson mean, “…and after I will stop”?  Some translations render it, “…I won’t stop until…” but the most literal translation option is to put it at the end.  I think it reveals something of the reluctance of Samson to kill.  I don’t think he wants to kill, but between the Spirit of Yahweh and the Philistine behavior, he feels compelled to kill.

Samson’s choices are destruction of property first, and then vengeance only after his ex-wife is killed.  After his vengeance, he self-exiles to a cave.  This is the action of one showing remorse for his actions, not someone proud to be killing the “lords and oppressors of his people”.  But it seems it is not the plan of Yahweh that Samson hide.  The human weapon of Yahweh isn’t finished yet.

One of the lessons I learn when I think through Samson this way, is that my Master may have plans for me very different than I imagine for myself.  And these plans may even run contrary to my personality and desires.  I’m not wild about that idea, but what if my Master chooses that option for me?  To what extent will I limit my obedience?  Will I only do what I consider beneficial for myself, or to be more in line with my character and desires?  Will I only obey when it works for me?

I’m not sure to what extent Samson had a choice in some of his actions.  In both the foxes and the revenge, he seems to work without divine inspiration.  But that’s coming in this chapter.  So, what if the weapon of Yahweh is Samson’s character?  If so, Samson doesn’t seem to like that part of himself.  He’s proud of his cleverness, but not his ability to take lives.  I don’t think that, if killing is part of his character, it’s the part he wants to be known for.  But, thousands of years later, it’s often the only thing we remember about him, that and his weakness for women.

So, what design could my Master have for me that might run contrary to how I want to see myself?  What will I do when I see Him use me for things I’d rather not do?  What will He do with me that will change how others see me, and how will I view that?  I suspect we will see that Samson isn’t particularly happy with how Yahweh uses him.

That’s my view through the knothole today.  What do you see of our Master through yours?