Sunday, October 31, 2010
And it is in this setting that a few amazing things happen:
1. The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. This was not exactly new, they had seen this same glory previously on the tops of mountains as Moses met with God. But before, the Israelites always responded in fear at the glory of the Lord, pushing Moses to the frontline to be their mediator. But not this time…
2. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the offerings. This was a clear sign from God that the sacrifices were accepted. And this approval of the sacrifice brought a new response out of the whole Israelite community…
3. They shouted for joy and fell facedown. Joy and worship. Gone is the fear that characterized this people whenever the glory of the Lord appeared.
The acceptance of the substitutionary sacrifice elicited joy and worship where before there had been only fear of judgment. And the writer of Hebrews says this of Jesus:
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. — Hebrews 10:12-14
So what about you? Do you grasp the immensity of the substitutionary sacrifice made for you? Does it cause you to shout for joy? To fall on your face? Has it transformed your fear of judgment? Or is your response still like the Jews in the desert: fearful, flighty, fickle and cold hearted?
1. Read 1 Kings 18:16-40 (don’t worry, it’s a great story!). What similarities do you see between the two accounts you read today? What differences?
2. Now read this from Hebrews 12:28,29: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” How do the two accounts (the Jews and Elijah) give you a sense of thankfulness? Reverence and awe?
3. What is the difference between having a fear of God and his judgment versus a fear for God characterized by reverence and awe?
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Q: Why so many plagues and why so severe? Was God just wielding the ten plagues like a playground bully, twisting Pharaoh's arm until he cried "uncle"?
A: No, it was much more than just a battle of the wills. Egypt was a pantheistic society, which means they worshiped many gods. Each of the ten plagues was direct challenge (and defeat) of one or more of those gods in the minds of the Egyptians. In essence, God was demonstrating his superiority and sovereignty over all of the created order and the supposed corresponding Egyptian pantheon. Pharaoh and all the Egyptians would have rightly understood this as a sort of clash of the titans, with the Israelite God emerging as the clear victor.
For instance, darkness was an assault on the sun god, Ra. The Nile turning to blood was an attack on Hapi, god of the Nile. With each plague, the Israelite God worked his way up the rungs of the Egyptian pantheon, finally reaching the Supreme: Pharaoh himself. The Egyptian religious system held that the Pharaoh was a human incarnation of Ra and that he was a god-king. So the death of Pharaoh's first born was the death of the son of god, the god-in-waiting.
Not only was this final plague seen as the defeat of Egypt's preeminent god figure, but within it (and the Passover sacrifice and meal) was a beautiful foreshadowing of both the Old Testament sacrificial system and the eventual perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. So in each of the plagues—but especially the last—God is anything but a mere bully and arbitrary in his actions.
Q: Were all the other Egyptians (and the Israelites, too) just innocent victims suffering collateral damage in this battle of the gods?
A: No. God demonstrated his ability to execute a surgical strike when necessary. The land of Goshen, the Israelite district within Egypt, was spared some of the plagues like those of flies, darkness and livestock. We are even told that some Egyptians were spared the worst of certain plagues when they "feared the word of the Lord" and responded properly (see the account of the hail for example).
However, it is conceivable that God had designs even for those plagues that afflicted both Egyptians and Israelites indiscriminately. After all, even the Israelites delayed in honoring, fearing and obeying the direction and word of the Lord through Moses.
It is also reasonable to assume that Pharaoh was not the only Egyptian holding out hope that one of the higher and mightier deities might finally put an end to this God of the slaves. In fact, there is never any account of any repentance or pleading for mercy or sanctuary on the side of the Egyptian people. This idea seems supported by the fact that there is no account of any Egyptians fleeing to Goshen during some of the more localized plagues. Whether they still held out greater hope in their gods (and Pharaoh) or whether they simply feared Pharaoh more than God, the silence of the Egyptian population doesn't necessitate their innocence.
Q: How do we make sense of the biblical account when it says "God hardened Pharaoh's heart"?
A: This is probably one of the most common and challenging questions from the entire book. One question that I have found important to ask about this problem is: "What action is required of God in order for Pharaoh's heart to harden?"
The Bible does declare emphatically that "God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." (James 1:13,14) So God would not tempt Pharaoh and in deed did not need to if Pharaoh's own evil desire and inclination was already against God. If this is true, than all that would be required is for God to release Pharaoh and turn him over to his fallen tendency towards hardness of heart. This same progression of fallenness is shown in Romans 1 when Paul writes three times that God "gave them over" to sinful desires, shameful lusts and a depraved mind. So while God may be the passive agent releasing fallen mankind to do whatever they desire, Pharaoh and the rest of humanity would be the active agents in our sin and rebellion. Our fallenness simply dictates what we do with our freedom when God turns us loose.
The biblical writer of Exodus communicates as much when switches back and forth between the idea the God hardened Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32). Certainly the author was not implicating God in Pharaoh's sinfulness, but it does seem he sees even Pharaoh's willful, sinful hardness as under the sovereign allowance of God.
In summary, the Bible always keeps these two ideas in balance and tension: the active willful rebellion of mankind within our freedom and the passive allowance of that rebellion under the sovereign rule of God. In this way, both the moral responsibility of man and the ultimate sovereignty of God is preserved.
If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty…If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible.” — Leviticus 4:13, 5:17
Now I don't know about you, but when I read this I am glad I was not an Old Testament Jew. I imagine I would go broke making "just in case" sacrifices for all the sins I may have committed unaware (kind of like the extra salvation prayers I made as a kid to make sure I was covered, and those didn't cost me a goat or a ram).
The point is really driven home that you could not just have confidence in your system of sacrifices. There were still too many holes. Salvation still had to come by faith in the God who would see imperfect sacrifices by imperfect persons as faith and hope in the One who was to come, fulfill the law and perfect the system. Or as Paul put it:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin…However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. — Romans 3:20, 4:5
Hopefully this dropped home for more than a few Old Testament Jews, as Paul says it did for Abraham and David. (Rom. 4) Salvation is not in the law for we cannot keep it perfectly. Salvation is not in the sacrifices we make at the altar for we cannot sacrifice perfectly. Salvation is only in God, who justifies the wicked and credits faith as righteousness.
Salvation is only in the Messiah, the perfect High Priest, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect fulfillment of the law, Jesus.
1. Do you think God was just in making these sorts of regulations? Why or why not? Do you still feel like God treats you this way today?
2. If you were an Old Testament Jew, how would you feel when you read these sorts or regulations? (Secure, nervous, grateful, resentful, etc.?)
3. Did you pray multiple salvation prayers when you were younger to make sure you were OK (or perhaps you still do)? What do you think might motivate someone to do this?
Friday, October 29, 2010
Over and over again God directed the Israelites to make various burnt offerings and repeatedly told them that these burnt offerings are “an aroma pleasing to the Lord”. Does God really enjoy the smell of burning livestock, grain or oil? Does God even smell them as we do, since God is spirit? Or is God pleased with something above, beyond and within the sacrifices of his people? The psalmist gives us his answer:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51:16,17
God is the same way with his children as we are with ours. Just as the admittedly small gifts from our children mean so much to us because of what they represent, so too our sacrifices are pleasing to God because of what they represent: humility, repentance, grief over sin, dependence on God and obedience.
So why don’t Christians still make these sacrifices? Because, in addition to that list, all those sacrifices represented and foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice to come in Jesus’ death. And the Apostle Paul says that now we as believers are “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” and that “we are to God the aroma of Christ”.
Did you catch that? Not only is Jesus the perfect completion of all the Old Testament sacrifices, but we as his children are living, breathing, walking-all-around pleasing aromas to God of Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus is the sacrifice, we are His aroma to God. Let that sink in. Let that inform the way you worship next time you sing. Let that change the way you talk to and deal with others. Let that press into you as you talk to your spouse.
Jesus’ obedience, humility, dependence and sacrifice rise up from us to God.
1. What might some of your thoughts have been if you were a Levite living in Old Testament times at offering these sacrifices? Does looking back through the sacrifice of Jesus cause you to look at them differently?
2. If you lived during that time, how do you think you would have handled the animal sacrifices? Does it intrigue you? Repulse you? Do you find it primitive? What do you think God was trying to communicate by instituting such a system?
3. Read the two verses quoted at the end of the devotion, Romans 12:1 and 2 Corinthians 2:15. How does it make you feel knowing that you are the aroma of Christ (and his perfect sacrifice) to God? Does it change the way you relate to God? To others? The way you think about yourself?
Thursday, October 28, 2010
These are common questions as we finish the book of Exodus, especially as we read that “In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted”. What a simple (or would that be simplistic) way to follow the will of the Lord…just look at the sky.
But notice what that did for the faith and spiritual maturity of the Israelites. Did they become stalwart God-followers who did everything right and just as God directed? Hardly! It’s more like a parent guiding their child along by the hand; but every time they let go, the child runs to play in traffic or reaches for the hot stove. God’s babysitting of the Israelites seemed to keep them as spiritual infants, but God is more interested in making mature followers out of his children.
Why is God silent? Why doesn’t he tell us his will for us every day? Because he has given us something much better than an external babysitter, he has given us the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Counselor who guides into all truth. He has given us His Word as our daily bread that we may grow up to be mature “eaters”. As Hebrews 5:14 says, “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
Why is God hidden? Why doesn’t he make himself plain to believers—and skeptics? Jesus said that if skeptics don’t listen to those whom God sends, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” But Jesus also said it would be better for us if he left because he would send the Spirit to guide us, teach us and remind us of the truth.
God answers these questions with the Holy Spirit and the Bible. The real question is: are you using the gifts God has given us to know him, speak with him, grow in him, find him, show him and love him?
1. Do you think it would be easier to be a Christian today if God led us like he led the Israelites? Why or why not?
2. Do you think it would be better if God communicated to us like he did with the Israelites, through a spokesman? Why or why not? What do you think it was like for the average Israelite to hear from God through Moses?
3. Read John 16:5-15. Do you agree with Jesus’ assessment that it is better that he left so he could send the Holy Spirit? Based on what you read in John, what might it be like today if Jesus was still walking around making disciples but the Holy Spirit had not been sent?
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
These are simply amazing thoughts to consider, and one is prone to a bit of jealousy when we look at the relationship Moses shared with the Lord. But it was not a perfect one. Moses’ fallen humanity still got in the way. This is perhaps no more apparent than when Moses asks to see the glory of God and the Lord replies, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live”.
When Moses saw God—or at least what God could safely reveal—he became aware of his mortality and sinfulness. Consider what Isaiah said when he was given a vision of God in his very heavenly throne room:
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." — Isaiah 6:5
Yet this will not always be the case. A day will come when the dwelling of God will be with man. The curse that has been running through the blood of man since Adam will be wiped from our veins. The reign and rule of sin will be ended. The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the LORD God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. — Revelation 22:3-5
Does this not make you ache for the return of Christ? To know God closer than Moses did, closer than a friend? Does this not make your heart pulse with a compassion for the lost to join us in the city of God and of the Lamb?
1. How would you describe your relationship with God right now? Friends? Colleagues? On speaking terms? What is the closest you’ve ever felt to God? What is the furthest?
2. In what ways do you think Moses had a closer relationship with God than we do today? In what ways do you think we have a closer relationship to God than Moses did then?
3. How do you think your relationship to God will change when you get to heaven? What does the Bible tell you about that time? What do you most eagerly anticipate about that change?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Go back and read Exodus 24:15-18. Chapters 25-31 are spoken to Moses during these forty days and we join the story back at the Israelite camp at the end of those forty days. Chapter 24 tells us that “the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain”, yet after forty days they are making and worshiping idols—and breaking commandments 1 and 2—right at the foot of the mountain. I believe that’s what some people call “gutsy”. Others might call it a “death wish”.
But really, how bad of test-takers can you be? God was pretty straight forward with the Ten Commandments. And a mountain top that looks like it’s being nuked for forty straight days isn’t exactly God being subtle about his presence. One might say they were “without excuse”.
Funny, cause Paul says the same thing about all of us (Romans 1:20, 2:1). All of us are without excuse in regards to the moral law that we have broken and the plain truth of God we have rejected. So if you’ve ever thought the Israelites were a bunch of idiots, well here’s your mirror.
Fortunately for us all, the Israelites weren’t the only ones tested for forty days in the desert. Another came who passed that test and every other one that the Israelites—and all the rest of us—have failed. Jesus passed that test on our behalf, all we have to do is accept his passing grade rather than our failing one.
Do you still live your life like you’re trying to pass that test? Relax. The grace of God is on your side, now you can live out of joyful forgiveness rather than fearful scrutiny. Do you still hold others to the same standard that you failed? Remember the mercy and grace that has been shown you. Do you still turn to your personal idols from your old life in the face of the One who died for you? Beware being so short sighted.
1. Do you think God’s response to the rebellion of the Israelites was an overreaction? Why or why not? Do you think God’s response to our rebellion is an overreaction? Why or why not?
2. Do you think God has made himself as plain to you (and everyone else) as “a consuming fire on top of the mountain” for the Israelites? Why or why not?
3. Do you ever feel like life is one big test? What do you do when you feel like that? How do you act and respond to situations? How would you behave and think differently if you believed that Jesus had already passed the most important test on your behalf?
Monday, October 25, 2010
First, God was implementing a system that would be a constant reminder of the gravity and severity of man’s sin. Today, if I lie to someone, all I have to do is repent to God and—if I’m motivated enough—the person I lied to. But under Israel’s sacrificial system, a little critter had to lose its life because of me. (I imagine the PETA of their day were in fits). As the writer of Hebrews described the Old Testament sacrificial system:
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22
Second, the Old Testament system was meant to be a shadow of the perfect sacrifice to come—and that sacrifice was going to be bloody. Again, the writer of Hebrews speaks on this:
When Christ came as high priest…he did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11a, 12
Third, it was a constant reminder of the grace and mercy of a God who had every right to demand justice. It was a reminder of the provision that the Lord had made (and would make someday) so that a sinful people could dwell with a holy God.
Other than a nice little history lesson, what does this have to do with us? Believe it or not, there is still a similar system set up still today and you participate in it. It is a reminder of the gravity of our sin and the cost of forgiveness. It is a picture of the perfect, bloody sacrifice and a reminder of the provision of grace made by God for us sinners.
We call it communion. Let us never forget the great extent that God in Christ stooped to for us. Let us remember the merciful covering of blood that makes us right before God. So eat. Drink. Remember. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:26)
1. What were/are some of your first responses at reading about the Jewish sacrificial system? What do you think about the comment in Hebrews that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”?
2. In what ways were the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament and Jesus’ sacrifice in the New Testament similar? Different?
3. What reasons/benefits can you see in remembering or “proclaiming” the Lord’s death until he comes? Why might it be something we instructed to do in groups as community?
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Worship is our response when God reveals Himself. Giving is one form of worship. God reveals the truth about money and possessions and expects us to respond. We see this in Numbers 25:1-7. Moses tells the people to give and receives whatever they are moved to give. He does not demand, compel, or take it from them because giving is an act of worship.
Our money belongs to God. He entrusts it to us to use as He directs. This was true for the Israelites as well. God led the Egyptians to give the Israelites items of value (see Ex. 11:2-3; 12:35-36). We think we build the business, make the decisions, put in the work, etc. What we fail to realize is that God gives us the ability and provides the opportunity. “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth . . . “ (Deut. 8:18).
Money reveals our hearts. Wherever our money goes, our heart follows. We either worship God with our money (Ex. 36:4-7) or we worship money as a god (Ex. 32). God doesn’t need our money; He wants our hearts. Because our hearts follow our money, when we give to God, He gets our hearts too. If you want to see your affection for God grow, begin to give to the things that please Him.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also . . . No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:21,24
Money multiplies when we give it away. When we use what we have for God’s purposes, He gives us more.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38
God revealed Himself and the people responded willingly. There was no need to pry the money from their fingers. Moses simply collected what their hearts had been moved to give. This was their free and willing response, not the tithe or first fruits that were commanded. This was a voluntary expression of worship by the people. When the offering was taken, there was more than enough. In fact, there was so much that they had to tell the people to stop giving because they already had more than was needed. (See Ex. 35:20-29 and 36:4-7)
1. How does the voice of the people strike you (24:3,7): Idealistic? Realistic? Self-defeating? Enthusiastic? Boastful?
2. Do you think either Moses or God expected the people to meet all their covenant duties? Why or why not?
3. Why do the people give what they do? What need does God have for riches?
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The notion of slavery immediately redlines our emotions. It conjures up pictures of slave traders physically taking people captive, subjecting them to inhuman treatment and selling them as property. The Bible is clear - trafficking in human beings is sin (see 1 Timothy 1:10 and Revelation 18:11-13).
Slavery in the Old Testament is different than what we picture. It is driven by economic reasons. They do not have the sophisticated bankruptcy laws that we have today. If a person was faced with overwhelming debt, he could sell himself into slavery in order to pay his outstanding debts. These slaves were generally paid for their work and able to save enough money to buy their freedom. They were often entrusted with large amounts of money and responsibility (see Matt. 25:15). To ensure that they were not abused, God declares this an open-ended relationship, in which the slave is given his freedom after six years.
While this still sounds odd to our modern ears, it was a helpful act. A destitute person was guaranteed food, shelter and income (see Genesis 47:23-25). A curious result of this arrangement was that some found the security and blessing of their master so beneficial that they will chose to willingly remain a slave in his service (a bondservant). Exodus 21:5-6 prescribes the way this decision was to be made public.
Many of the New Testament authors, including Paul, Peter, James and Jude all refer to themselves as bondservants of Jesus. This idea is drawn from the bondservants described here in Exodus. They all understood that Jesus had forgiven the immense debt of their sin. As a result, they willingly submitted their lives to His service. This is what it means to be a Christian. God has forgiven your debt, provided for you, welcomed you into His family, and secured your future. In return, you voluntarily choose to live your life to serve Him.
As Christians, we no longer seek our pleasure or the praise of men. Instead we seek to please Jesus, knowing how much He has already given for us and trusting that He has only the best planned in the future.
1. Choose one: Widow, orphan, or a poor person. How could the church take responsibility for the special needs of that person? How could the church align its social programs more with these priorities for “holy” living?
2. Why tell Israel that God is sending his angel to prepare their way? How should this have made them feel about entering the land? (Exodus 23:20-30)
3. How else does God ensure that Israel will reach their goal? What do health and fertility have to do with that (vs. 25, 26, 30)?
4. What conditions or roadblocks are put on them? How would such forced delays and detours be received? What do verses 29-30 teach you about God’s work in your life?
Friday, October 22, 2010
Worship is about revelation and response. God takes the initiative and reveals Himself to us. We respond to what God reveals. This pattern is clear: We see God (19:4) and He expects complete obedience (19:5). The problem is, we can’t see God or obey what He commands, so how can we worship? Jesus enables our worship by revealing the Father and offering His obedience in our place.
God reveals Himself in different ways. Sometimes it is miraculous – a burning bush or a cloud covered in smoke and fire. At other times, it is more ordinary – words on a page. When God spoke to Moses on the mountain, it was the same as when the people read the Ten Commandments. In fact, it was better because the people didn’t want God to speak to them. They were too afraid. They wanted Him to go through someone else.
Lightning and fire were too much, so God used Moses. The words of Moses were not enough, so He did even better. He stepped out of heaven and became a man so that we could see and know Him. Not through fear and fog, but in grace and truth. Jesus came so we could see God (Hebrews 1:1-3) and how He would respond in our shoes. Jesus loved His enemies, prayed for those who persecuted Him, extended grace to those in sin, and loved the Father so much that He gave His life in obedience. He revealed God’s character and how we should live.
Jesus perfectly reveals the Father, but we still fail to obey. The Ten Commandments are entry level and we cannot keep them. We worship other things, lie, steal, have sex with people we aren’t married to, and want what others have. Our disobedience earns God’s wrath.
We can’t obey, so Jesus obeys for us. He responds perfectly, lives obediently and keeps all of the commands. His life fulfills the righteous requirement God’s Law demands. Jesus earns the Father’s acceptance and approval.
On the cross, Jesus exchanges places with us. He takes our sin on Himself and absorbs the wrath of God against it. He offers His righteousness to us in exchange for our sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21)
The cross reveals God’s judgment on sin and His offer of new life through faith in Jesus. He wants us to respond by faith in Jesus. The Israelites failed because when God spoke, they didn’t respond with faith. Jesus offers salvation from God by rest from our work and trust in His work for us. Respond with faith in Jesus. (Hebrews 4)
1. What barriers has Jesus set aside so that we can draw near to God with confidence (see Hebrews 10:19ff)? What does Peter urge us to do to become “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, belonging to God” (1 Pet. 2:9)?
2. What does it mean that God is jealous? How does that trait define the terms of this covenant? What was an idol then? What about now?
3. What shift in focus do you see between verses 1-11 and 12-31? How does Matthew 22:37-40 help you understand the Ten Commandments?
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Life is a struggle. Sin strangles us. Disappointment crushes us. People let us down. Sometimes it’s hard to just put one foot in front of the other.
How do we respond? Usually, we respond by trying to solve it on our own. We watch Rocky, Gladiator, or Braveheart, get all pumped up and try to do it ourselves. Another response is to curl in a fetal position and wait for Jesus to come back. Neither one is the right call.
God gives victory, but we have to fight.
God visibly teaches this to Moses and Israel. They are attacked by the Amalekites. God doesn’t intervene and strike the Amalekites dead. Instead, the Israelites have to fight. They don’t fight alone though - God is fighting for them and through them. God’s involvement is obvious because when Moses raises the staff of God, they win. When he lowers the staff, they lose. There is a difference between fighting with God on your side and fighting on your own.
This passage is not about finding a “magic stick.” Instead, it’s about recognizing God and His presence in our lives. When faced with trouble, He doesn’t expect us to wave some wood in the air. He does expect us to acknowledge Him in everything that we do.
We accomplish that through prayer. Paul says, ““I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone . . . I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer . . . “ (1 Timothy 2:1; 8). When we pray, we surrender to God and ask Him to fight for us.
We need God but we also need others. The Israelites would have never won if Moses stood alone. He got tired and gave out. Aaron and Hur were an essential part of the victory. Many of us fall because there is no one with us. We fight alone and no one is there when we need help.
One reason we fight alone is that we think people will let us down. They will! We all fail one another sometimes, but we can’t give up. When Jethro tells Moses that he needs others to help, Moses has to choose from the people who were just complaining against him! There are no perfect people, but if you try to face life on your own, you will struggle. Jethro echoes God’s words about Adam – “It is not good for man to be alone”. (Genesis 2: 18) We need God at our side, but we need other people there too.
1. What does this passage teach about the authority of Moses and God? About stress? Obedience? Trust?
2. What were the key elements to Jethro’s plan (vs. 17-23)? What would have appealed to Moses, and to the people, about delegated leadership? What would have been hard for either one to swallow about this idea?
3. What are the long-term benefits of organizing the church into small groups the way Moses did? What are the pitfalls of doing it that way?
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
We don’t want God to lead us; we want Him to serve us. Israel continually proves this. God uses Moses to lead them but they repeatedly grumble against God and rebel against His instructions. If they don’t grumble, they just ignore His guidance. They’re no different than us.
God miraculously liberated them from slavery and then they want Him to be their servant. If He will not serve them, they would rather suffer as slaves. Their rebellion causes them to remember the experience pleasantly.
Pride is their biggest problem. Throughout the Bible, we are told that our pride places us in opposition to God (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). That’s exactly what we see here.
God is gracious and loving, but He demands that we submit to Him. He promises to provide, but we have to forsake our agenda and follow His. If we obey, He promises to bless us. His intent is not to harm but to heal.
God sends trials to test their hearts. In each, He gives simple instructions to see if the people will obey Him. It isn’t difficult. Throw a specific piece of wood in the water. Gather enough food for your family for one day. Don’t store any. Gather enough for two days before the Sabbath. Trust me to provide bread from nothing. Trust me to do it again. Instead of obeying, they repeatedly ignore His commands.
We are no different than the Israelites. We don’t want a God who leads us. We don’t want to obey Him. We’re rebels. Slavery to a cruel taskmaster is preferable to humbling ourselves before a loving God.
Jesus demonstrated that suffering brings us closer to God (Hebrews 2:10, 1 Peter 2:21). Suffering perfected Jesus because He saw trials as a test from God, humbled Himself and trusted God.
Our suffering will either be pointless or purposeful. It all depends on how we approach it. We should learn from the example of Jesus and not that of the Jews. In times of suffering, submit yourself to God, continue to do good, and trust Him.
1. How can the Israelites turn from prison to praise to protest so quickly?
2. What is the essence of their complaint and God’s cure? Why hadn’t God led Israel to sweet water in the first place? What was his object lesson?
3. Marah and Elim are about 9 miles apart. What does that say about our patience? God’s provision? His discipline?
4. What were the promises and requirements associated with God’s provision of the manna? Why provide food that only lasts one day (vs. 19-21)? What was different about the sixth and seventh days (vs. 22-30)? What does this say about the trust relationship that God requires?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Following God is seldom quick, safe, or easy. God’s plan seldom aligns with ours. In fact, from our vantage point, He often seems to be making several strategic errors.
It always seems like there is a quicker way than the one God chooses. There probably is a quicker way but we aren’t prepared for it. We are tempted to think that God has called us to do something, so the faster we can get it done the better. That is seldom true. God is more concerned with creating the person than executing the plan. What God wants accomplished, He can achieve with anyone or anything at any time - even a donkey (Numbers 22:21-33) or a pile of rocks (Luke 19:40).
God takes time to prepare the person. Moses spent 40 years in the desert, Paul was in the desert for 3 years, and even Jesus spent 30 years preparing before taking his ministry public. It takes time for God to prepare the person and He knows when we are ready for the task. There was a quicker way out of Egypt for Israel, but they weren’t ready for it. They would have had to fight and they weren’t trained. Because He knew them and what they were ready for, God led them along a longer route.
Difficulties and obstacles also arise in the path. The two we face the most often are people and circumstances. We see a person who opposes us and worry ourselves sick about them. If it’s not a person, the circumstances we face terrify us. Sometimes it gets really bad and the two collide in an acid reflux inducing, insomnia laced, perfect storm.
That’s the situation Israel faced. The most powerful man in the world was leading the army of a superpower to chase them down. They were not prepared to fight and the path to run was blocked. God sees farther than we can and provides options that we do not recognize. When you say “impossible”, the noise you hear in response is God’s laughter.
God takes His time to lead us down the long road so we can come to the end of ourselves. When we finally arrive, we find that He has been sitting there waiting on us the entire time.
1. What is God’s assessment of the Israelite’s emotional state? How did he allow for that? With God having defeated all the gods of Egypt (see 12:12), why do you think the Israelites were afraid of one more battle? Would you have been fearful too?
2. How equipped were the Egyptians? The Israelites? How did that make the Israelites react (14:6-12)?
3. What is the one “sea wall” or “pursuing army” you fear most in the coming week? Why this? How is God leading you up to this point: In circles? In the dark? Through fire? Or do you feel abandoned by those you’ve trusted?
Monday, October 18, 2010
Blood makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us of our mortality and vividly demonstrates that sin results in death. Animal sacrifice in the Old Testament teaches us about atonement (how God restores His relationship with mankind). Atonement is achieved by the substitution of one life for another.
This is the point of the Passover. As Mark Driscoll writes, “One of the bloodiest books in the Bible is Exodus. There, God’s people were enslaved to the godless king Pharaoh, and God saved them by shedding a lot of blood. The people were given two choices. One, they could repent of sin, place their faith in God, and demonstrate their faith by slaughtering an animal and covering the doorposts of their home in blood. If this was done, then God promised to pass over their house and not kill the firstborn son in the home, but rather accept the substitution of the life of the sacrificial animal. Two, they could fail to repent of their sin and to place their faith in God and see death come to the home. On that night in Egypt, much blood was shed and death came to every home, as either the blood of a substitute animal was shed for the sinners, or the firstborn son in each home was put to death by God.”
In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), sacrificed on behalf of each of us. The Israelites demonstrated faith by sacrificing a lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts of their home. By faith, we accept the blood of Jesus as our substitute to cover our hearts and cleanse our sin. We can either accept his blood as payment for our sins or pay with our own.
The Jews observed the Passover to remind them of the night that God led them out of slavery to freedom. In the New Testament, the Passover is the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-38). Jesus and the disciples observed the Passover, only this time Jesus reveals a deeper meaning. The Passover points to Him. Instead of a lamb, He will be the perfect, innocent sacrifice. It will not be an animal for one family; it will be the Son of God for the whole world.
Communion is a reminder for us, just as Passover was for the Jews. It reminds us of Jesus, who died in our place to free us from bondage to sin, Satan, and death. Our relationship with God has been restored through the blood of Jesus, our perfect, sinless substitute.
1. What do you find noteworthy about the Passover observance? For example, when on the calendar is the event commemorated? Why then? How so? With whom? What for?
2. Regarding the Passover commemoration, for whose benefit does God institute this feast on the same night that he passes over the homes of those who have obeyed and made the sacrifice? What does this Jewish feast have in common with its Christian counterpart (Communion)?
3. How does this passage help you see the purpose for Jesus’ death and shed blood? How do you remember “the Lamb who was slain” (vs. 21, see Rev. 5:12)?
 Mark Driscoll, Death by Love, pg. 76-77.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
These questions are hard—perhaps impossible—to answer this side of heaven, but God occasionally gives us a peek into his strategy room throughout the Bible. This is the message God sends to Pharaoh through Moses:
For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.— Exodus 9:15,16
And we learn four important things about God in his dealings with Pharaoh:
1. God is sovereign, even over the lives of the wicked. Admit it, wicked—I mean truly evil—people live a lot longer than they would if you held their beating heart in your hands. Yet none of them live one moment longer than God permits. And remember, Paul would consider himself one on that list: “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
2. God is sovereign over the rise of the mighty. The power of the nations may rest in the hands of a very few men, but each one of them rests in the hands of One greater. This does not remove us from political and social responsibility, but eases the frustration when we fail there.
3. God delights to show his power. Toward the proud, God’s power is set against them. But for the oppressed and humble, God’s power is for them and “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
4. God will see to it that he gets his glory. God’s tolerance of the wicked, the rise of Pharaoh, and God’s power against him. All this to magnify and amplify God’s name, His glory, His renown. They proclaim the good news in all the earth that there is a powerful God who fights on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, the needy and the captive.
1. Why doesn’t God wipe all the wicked off the earth? Have you ever asked such a question? If he ever did, do you think you’d “make the cut”?
2. Do you think the Apostle Paul was really as bad as he thought he was? Why or why not? Do you think are really as bad as you think you are? Why or why not?
3. Has Christ Jesus displayed his unlimited patience towards you? How do you know? How might you respond to God considering his patience? How might you respond to others?
Saturday, October 16, 2010
It would be almost comical if it weren’t so familiar. We will soon read that Israel, after gaining its freedom from Egypt, has just as hard of a time with hardness of heart. They seem almost bi-polar in the way they so easily and quickly turn from their miracle-working God to the gods made by human hands.
That hardness of heart remains within the Jews even when Jesus comes. Jesus quotes Isaiah words about them saying, “For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Matt. 13:15).
And here’s where it all hits home: we all struggle with hard hearts. Our hardness of heart manifests itself in more subtle ways but it’s still there. Pharaoh and the Jews turned their backs on God’s display of power in plagues and pillars of fire and smoke (spoiler alert!). Later, the Jews hardened their hearts to the myriad of miracles from Jesus.
But us? We just save prayer as a last resort and an afterthought. We skip our Bible reading for days, weeks at a time. We only hang out with Christians when we have to.
These don’t make you right with God, but these are all to some measure tests of the heart. Do you love talking to him? Do you love his revealed word? Do you love his children? Take heed and take steps so that you will not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12).
1. Based on what you know of Pharaoh and Israel’s hardness of heart, what might hardness of heart look like today in our cultures and our churches?
2. Can you remember a time when you felt your heart was hard toward God? What changed?
3. Read Hebrews 3:7-13. What does the author call the believers to do (and not do)? Why would a church or community group be essential in order to obey this? Do you feel like you have those sorts of close spiritual relationships?
Friday, October 15, 2010
Moses returned to the LORD and said, "O LORD, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all." – Exodus 5:22, 23
One might expect Exodus 5:24 to read something like this: “Then God smote Moses with lighting from heaven and the jackals licked up his ashes”. But instead God responds to Moses’ complaint and addresses his concerns.
As we consider the rest of the Bible (especially the Psalms) we find that this is consistent with the character of God. He is compassionate to those in affliction, patient with those grieved, tender-hearted towards the broken and helpless. Even when the cries of desperation verge on irreverence, God seems to welcome this sort of raw honesty.
In fact, we have every reason to believe that God would prefer that very sort of raw honesty over a pious, sanitized prayer that has been laundered of all our emotions. Too many people don’t pray at all because they’re afraid that they’ll get something wrong (the words, the motive, the attitude, etc.), but our biblical fathers of the faith certainly didn’t let that stop them, and we shouldn’t either.
Paul E. Miller speaks of that sort of prayer in this way: “Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer…We know we don’t need to clean up our act in order to become a Christian, but when it comes to praying, we forget that. We, like adults, try to fix ourselves up. In contrast, Jesus wants us to come to him like little children, just as we are.” (A Praying Life)
1. Do you find it hard to pray? Or do you find yourself praying less than you might because you have your filter turned up so high?
2. Does the imagery of coming to God like a little child help in your understanding of what prayer can and should be like? What characteristics of little children would lend themselves to a prayer life that God desires?
3. What are some other reasons why you don’t pray more? What sort of steps can you take to change that?
Thursday, October 14, 2010
You would be hard pressed to find a more reluctant leader in the Bible than Moses. Five different times Moses tries to weasel out of the calling God placed on him. At first he just sounds humble (“Who am I?”). Then he sounds confused (“Who should I say sent me?”). But his passive, subtly prideful heart soon emerges in his final three attempts as they grow increasingly desperate (“What if they don’t believe me?”, “But I don’t speak well.”, “Please send someone else to do it!”).
It almost sounds pathetic, until we realize that we do the same thing. Sure, we don’t have conversations out loud with God in front of a flaming Hibiscus, but all of us have at one time or another pushed back when God prodded. Whether it was something you read in the Bible or the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit, we begin making excuses that eventually devolve into something like “Me no talk good!”
But notice how God answers Moses’ objections. He doesn’t try and build up Moses’ self-esteem with a pat on the back and a “You’re not so bad!” He doesn’t tell Moses to just try harder. No, instead God answers the objections of Moses with His own presence.
“I will be with you.”
“I AM WHO I AM.”
“Who gave man is mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
Consider what God has called you to do, everything from the great commission for every believer (“Make disciples of all nations”), to the subtle nudges of God’s Spirit and everything in between. While it is certainly wise to talk to God and other mature Christians about the call of God, eventually we must reach the same conclusion that Moses did. Trust and obey.
1. What other motives might Moses have had for not wanting to obey God and return to Egypt? Are these any better than the ones he offered to God?
2. Can you remember a time when you were certain God was asking you to do something you didn’t want to do? Did you end up doing it or not? What was the result?
3. How can God and his character be an answer to the objections we often raise? How is Jesus and his life an answer?
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Throughout the book of Genesis, God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had a central theme to them: descendants and land. When the book of Exodus starts we are given an update on how these promises are coming along. After three generations, there are seventy within the “covenant community” and every single one of them is in Egypt. (Whoopie!)
Yet the Lord is always faithful in his promises. And he is never late, never slow, in keeping his promises. Certainly we feel the delay as we wait, but the timing of the Lord is never a moment too late or too soon.
In a foreign land the Israelites begin to flourish, so much so that the Egyptians begin to fear their numbers. Yet even under slavery and oppression, the Israelites flourish. The Israeites’ blessing of children even spills over onto the Egyptian midwives because they fear the Israelite God more than the Pharaoh.
God’s timing is rarely our own. In fact, for the Israelites it seems like the worst time for God to make good on his promise because His blessing lands them in slavery!
Perhaps you have felt the same way. God’s blessing seems to be absent or it comes and doesn’t feel like a blessing. Paul reminds us of the truth of God’s work and His promises:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
Cling to the promises of God and to the fact that even when the promise looks to be turning sour, there’s a promise about that as well.
1. What are some promises from Scripture that you or someone you know has trusted in, counted on and found comfort from?
2. What makes us think that God is reliable in his promises? Are there things in the Bible or in your own life that have made you feel that God is unreliable?
3. Have you ever had a time in your life when a promise or blessing felt like it was poorly timed? Explain.
4. How can Paul say with such confidence that all things work for the good of his children?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The Bible has a starkly different view of the evil in the world. It is not out of control. It is under His control. Consider what Joseph said when his brothers repented for all their sinful actions toward him.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
– Genesis 50:20
John Piper, in his intimidatingly titled book Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose In the Glory of Christ, has the following to say about this event: “Notice it does not say that God used their evil for good after they meant it for evil. It says that in the very act of evil, there were two different designs: In the sinful act, they were designing evil, and in the same sinful act, God was designing good”.
Now this is just plain hard to imagine—let alone balance—in our minds. Yet this is not the most difficult example. That is found in the life of Jesus—or specifically his death. The death of the Son of God Jesus Christ, God in flesh, is the most heinous act of sin and treason against God imaginable. And yet we read all throughout the Bible that God had predestined His death for our sin from before the foundation of the world.
So again, as John Piper put it, in the death of Jesus Christ many men were designing evil but God was designing good.
I am not saying that our sin isn’t as serious because God can use it for good. Remember, Jesus’ death on the cross is the measure of how serious our sin is to God. But never let the sin you see in the world keep you from believing that God is good and that he can design good in it. And never let the sin in your own life keep you from believing that God is loving and gracious towards you.
Our sin does not thwart God, he can use it. Our sin does not surprise God, he can and will forgive it.
1. Have you ever heard anyone say, “God wouldn’t love me if he knew all the messed up things I’ve done in my life”? What did or would you say to a comment like that?
2. In addition to the examples of Joseph and Jesus, can you think of any other events in the Bible that were meant for evil but God meant for good?
3. How do we respond to someone suffering evil without sounding glib? How do we talk about these things with them without sounding cold? Or do we talk at all?
Monday, October 11, 2010
During the entire book of Genesis, Abraham and his descendants are nomadic and nearly homeless with only brief exceptions. Abraham is called by God to pack up and leave without knowing the destination. Isaac is relocated by a famine in the land. Jacob flees home out of fear of his brother’s wrath. And Joseph ends up in Egypt only to prepare the way for the rest of his family to follow him there.
Through it all, God continually promises them a home, a land for both them and their descendants. Yet the writer of Hebrews makes this somewhat shocking observation:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. – Hebrews 11:13
Living by faith will mean living like you’re homeless in this life (figuratively in most cases). But even if you own a house in the same town that you grew up in, there is a very real and very profound sense in which the Christian will never be home in this life. C.S. Lewis, in speaking of heaven, put it this way: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” ( Mere Christianity, bk. 3, ch. 10)
Perhaps you’ve only heard the dull, “singing 24-7, pudgy babies with harps” version of heaven and you can’t imagine how that will possibly satisfy all these desires and aches for something more.
Space does not permit us to paint a good picture of what heaven will be like (neither does the human language for that matter) but suffice it to say this: if God created this universe with its vast and wonderful array of pleasures for our enjoyment for a few short years of human history, imagine what he can and will do for the coming eternity when the dwelling of God is with men.
1. Read Hebrews 11:8-16. Has there even been a time in your life when you felt like these men, a stranger in a foreign country? Living in tents? What does this passage tell us about heaven?
2. Have you ever heard the quote, “He’s so heavenly minded he’s of no earthly use”? What do you think the speaker meant to convey? What are some ways that a proper understanding of heaven might make a Christian a better person here on earth? Explain.
3. What are your first impressions of the quote by C.S. Lewis? Agree or disagree? Explain.
4. Are you excited about heaven? Nervous? Disinterested? Share what most excites you about heaven and what hesitations you have about it.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
He came up with the brilliant proposal to sell Joseph as a slave rather than kill him, making a profit and supposedly retaining their dignity in the process. After all, Joseph was his flesh and blood. Not long after that he hired a prostitute that turned out to be his daughter-in-law, whom he got pregnant. When her sin was discovered, he was the one that called for her death, not realizing that he was complicit in her sin.
In Genesis 44, however, Judah emerged as a heroic figure.
Joseph arranged circumstances so that Benjamin and the brothers were arrested for theft. As a result, Joseph threatened to hold Benjamin as a slave because the cup was in his bag. This was justice in which each man paid for his own sin.
But Judah stepped forward as a substitute. He offered himself in place of the “guilty” one. Maybe he was motivated by guilt or shame. Perhaps he had finally begun to grow in his faith. Whatever the reason, Judah offered to take the punishment of the one who was guilty.
One of the most remarkable things about Judah is that Jesus is one of his descendants. This grossly sinful man was blessed with having the Son of God come from his lineage.
We don’t know why Judah stepped forward as a hero. What we do know is that years later, Jesus, his descendant, stepped forward and offered himself as a sinless substitute for the guilt of all mankind. He did not do so because he was motivated by shame or guilt. He willingly offered himself out of obedience to His heavenly Father and love for the guilty rebels: us.
1. How is this account in many ways an illustration of what Paul teaches in Romans 8:28?
2. What does Joseph’s perspective on history in Genesis 45:7-8 teach us about God’s providential hand in human history?
3. Has Joseph truly forgiven his brothers? Why or why not? Are they convinced of their forgiveness? Why or why not? (see 50:15-21)