Exodus 11: Midnight

Dear church,

“There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt.” Not a household would be left unscathed. The dead would be brought out in the morning. What did they do with all the bodies?

This is the carnage of plagues. Death and mayhem come with them. 

But this seems, sometimes, like too much. Did God really have to strike down all the firstborn in every house? So much innocent life was taken away. No one deserves such a thing, surely.

I read and pondered this and worked on a splinter I’d found in my finger. 

It was an unfortunate splinter – right on the tip of my pointer finger. It was Sunday morning, and I needed that finger to play the piano. The splinter came while moving firewood into the church building. You never know when you’ll get snagged.

I didn’t notice it at first. It was just a little painful, but it was painful enough I knew something foreign was in there, practically hidden from view. We know our bodies. We usually are good judges when things aren’t as they should be. 

So I worked at it. But it was too small. I picked and pulled. You know how it is. Once you find a splinter, you can’t leave it alone.

“There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt …” Maybe God should have just taken the Pharaoh out instead. The rest of the Egyptians seemed to be coming around to the idea God was serious about freedom for the Hebrew people. Without the Pharaoh, perhaps the other leaders in the nation would simply release the slaves. 

The big first aid kit in the church building has a splinter removing tool, something I’d never seen before. It’s a disposable piece of metal designed for just the problem I had. So I went to work with it. I kept picking at that splinter.

It’s never OK to take innocent life. We know that. God surely knows that, too. This harsh tenth plague gives skeptics something to point at, something to needle God about. Maybe the God of the New Testament is a little nicer than this Old Testament God after all.

I kept working on that splinter. And then … success! Finally. It’s amazing how small a splinter can be to cause such discomfort. All I had to do was keep working at it.

I kept picking at God about that “great cry” and the lives lost in Egypt and the bodies piled up. It’s not right. I know that. You know that. …

I don’t think God knows that. 

Something idolatrous creeps into us when we begin to judge God, when we find some uncomfortable thing in his actions or in his Word and we start to pick at it, trying to remove it from our sight. 

It’s idolatrous because we’ve opted to put our righteous thoughts and feelings above God’s. The creature becomes the judge of the Creator. 

God told Job, who also liked to pick and pull, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2 and following). That’s what we speak when we are around God – “words without knowledge.” 

And the apostle Paul warned us about this. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20).

Idolaters put something else over against God. They declare their wisdom to be infallible. God must fall in line.

But God thoughts are higher than ours. His purposes are good.

And while we do not have the right to take human life, God does. The Creator can do whatever he pleases. After all, it is his creation. 

We are left either with faith or the lack of it. Christians trust God can take life and still be good and morally pure. We also are left with the reality that human life is not innocent. We ought not to venture into conversations with God about who deserves what. 

My splinter was gone. I put a band-aid on my finger. I decided to quit picking at God, too. 

Chris

Exodus 10: Sacrifice

Dear church,

The Israelites would not leave Egypt without their livestock. Moses said the people needed their animals – “that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” The worship of God required sacrifice – to give fully of oneself to him, to bring him gifts, to seek atonement for sins.

Keep in mind, the exodus preceded the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, so Israel’s sacrificial system had not yet been formalized. And yet, the people saw a need for sacrifice.

For centuries now, progressive Christianity has sought to take the sacrifice out of the faith. Some Christians want to make Jesus’ death for our sins into some kind of example of kindness rather than substitutionary. But Christianity is empty without sacrifice, and so is the cross.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures …” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

A critical step in our walk with Christ is recognizing who he is and what he did for us. He “died for our sins.” This is what we come to believe as Christians. If we don’t believe we have sins or that Christ died in our place for them, then we are believing a different gospel that does not come from the Bible or the testimony of the apostles. 

We can’t take the sacrifice out of the Christian faith. God’s people still are well aware of the need for sacrifice. When we move into freedom from sin and death, we do so with Christ. We don’t leave him behind. And we are thankful for his sacrifice that covers all.

Chris

Exodus 9: Power

Dear church,

A group of congresspeople last week asked the president to relinquish his sole authority to launch nuclear missiles at our nation’s enemies. 

That’s pretty interesting. One of the things that has made the president of the United States so powerful is his ability to drop nuclear bombs on people. We sometimes say the president “has his finger on the button.” That is, he’s got his finger on the button that authorizes nuclear strikes. 

In this story about the president’s nuclear authority was a picture of a military man carrying the “nuclear football” that travels with the president everywhere he goes. It’s been this way since President John F. Kennedy. 

Smithsonian Magazine called the nuclear football “the closest modern-day equivalent of the medieval crown and scepter – a symbol of supreme authority.” Inside is not a big red button, apparently. Rather, there’s a communication device that can confirm the president’s identity and enable him to communicate with the Pentagon in cases of national emergency.

It’s called the “football” because an early nuclear war plan was code-named “Dropkick.” And Dropkick needed a “football” in order to operate. And so a military officer carries the “football” around with the president everywhere he goes. Only the president has the authentication codes to activate it and begin the process of implementing a nuclear strike.

The congresspeople who have suggested the president be relieved of that sole authority believe “vesting one person with this authority entails real risks.” Their suggestion is somehow to bring other people to the table when the president is faced with a decision about whether to launch a nuclear strike. For instance, perhaps the president should act in agreement with the vice president and speaker of the house, or he should work with a special committee in congress set up for that purpose. 

Why is this so important? It is because launching nuclear missiles is a big deal, a potentially earth-ending big deal. 

It also is important because we Americans, at least, don’t like anyone to have too much power. When we see power being accumulated by any one person or group of people, our first instinct seems to be to figure out ways to put a check on that power. 

It is a system that has worked beautifully since the beginning of our country. The three branches of government provide checks on each other. Not any one of them has supreme control – unless it’s the president with the “nuclear football.”

And in the rest of our society, we see this kind of mentality playing out. For instance, Silicon Valley and Big Tech have accumulated a lot of power in our country. They have the ability to control the flow of information in our country and, as we know, information is power. And so certain groups and people rightfully have called for a check on this power that the big technology and communications companies have.

When we find big power, we look for ways to bring it in check. This is part of the American way. Democracies operate like this because power, in a democracy, is supposed to be spread out among the people – the voters. This all makes perfect sense to us. We’ve known this, at least in our subconscious, our entire lives.

When we encounter texts like Exodus 7-10 – about the plagues in Egypt – we encounter a power struggle. But this power struggle is different because God is involved. And God always wins.

In Egypt, Pharaoh seemed to have all the power. He held the Hebrew people in captivity. He managed the work of the magicians and sorcerers whom we understand to have had some sort of demonic power. And, of course, Pharaoh controlled the judicial system and the economy. He was a powerful man.

And then Moses walked into the room. 

“Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague …” (Exodus 9:2-3).

As we read this, we can know something right off the bat: Pharaoh was not going to let the people God go. God already had told Moses this. God had a plan and a purpose, and he had power over Pharaoh, too. 

“You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:2-4).

And so the plan already was set. Pharaoh was going to reject the command to let the Israelites go, and God was going to lay his “hand” on Egypt. God was going to show his power. Already by the time we reach Exodus 7, God had brought four plagues on Egypt – water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, and flies.

This was the hand of the Lord that had fallen on Egypt. The phrase the “hand of the Lord” is used multiple times in Scripture, and it frequently describes, as you might expect, God’s mighty power. I would like to draw your attention to one of those instances in 1 Peter 5. Peter urged the church, 

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

When we are faced with the hand of God – his absolute power – we seem to have a couple of ways to respond. We can be proud. We can resist. We can reject what God is doing or trying to say to us or trying to convince us of. This, of course, is how Pharaoh responded.

The alternative is to humble ourselves. We can recognize our own tiny-ness in relation to the Almighty God. We are not in control. He is. 

In recognizing God’s power and authority – an authority that has no checks and balances – we also recognize that God calls the shots. All the shots. He’s in charge of matters of life and death, of blessing and cursing. God is in complete control.

He demonstrated that to Pharaoh: “But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die” (Exodus 9:4).

Here, God was making sure everyone knew there were some people who were his – and they would receive his blessing. When the animals began to drop dead, it would be obvious it was not the Egyptians who had the blessing of God. Rather, it was the Israelites. Pharaoh knew this. He sent people out to see if it was true. And it was. “Not one of the livestock of Israel was dead” (Exodus 9:7).

God was in complete control, and he was demonstrating that with these plagues. God was going to bring out his people – a people who had been mistreated.

We see this in the sixth plague, the plague of boils. God told Moses and Aaron to take handfuls of soot from the kiln and to throw it in the air. Those kilns were important for the economy of Egypt. Part of me wonders whether they were the same kilns used in the brick-making activities of the Hebrews. They had been ordered to make bricks, and they had been told to do so in ever more harsh and demanding ways (Exodus 5).

If these are the same kilns the Israelites used, it would make quite a picture. Moses and Aaron threw soot from those kilns into the air – the byproduct of the injustice against God’s people. And the Egyptians, who had benefited from that slave labor, were infected with boils. God was setting things right. He had the power to do so.

Another interesting note emerges from this plague, and, again, it is about power and the struggle for power. The magicians of Pharaoh who had been trying to match Moses and Aaron plague for plague were suddenly unable to stand because they were so infected by boils. Demonic powers and human trickery cannot stand under the mighty hand of the Lord. God wins every power struggle.

God was demonstrating his eternal power – a power that cannot be matched and that cannot be resisted.

Before the seventh plague, God told Pharaoh that he could have wiped Pharaoh out. “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth” (Exodus 9:15). 

In other words, God could have ended the nation of Egypt. He could have killed them all, Pharaoh included. That would have been an easy way to set Israel free. But God didn’t do that. Why?

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). 

We see here the reason God was doing what he was doing and the way in which he was doing it. God specifically selected Pharaoh to bear the brunt of his wrath. God even hardened Pharaoh’s already-hard heart so God could continue to demonstrate his power. 

“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power.” God wanted Pharaoh to see it. What a scary proposition. “I have raised you up, to show you my power.” It should have sent chills into Pharaoh’s bones.

But this wasn’t a demonstration of power merely for Pharaoh. God wanted the world to know it, “so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

The aim of this display of power is this: Worship. God wants to be worshipped by all the earth – not just by the Hebrews or by Pharaoh or by the Egyptians, but by everyone. All the earth. 

God has a plan, and it is for all to worship him. This is why God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. And this is why God sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross. 

The apostle Paul said in Philippians 2: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

We are to worship Jesus like there is no other one to worship. Every knee will bow. Some of those who bow may do so unwillingly and regretfully. Pharaoh, I suppose, would fall in that category. But he will bow. And so will we. 

God’s purpose is to demonstrate his power so that he might be worshipped by everyone.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of God’s power. God raised Jesus from the dead. For much of human history, death seemed to have the final say. No one escapes the power of death. And so the ultimate moment of power was when Jesus walked out of that tomb.

Again, God demonstrates his power so that he might be worshipped by everyone. We worship because to worship God is go grab hold of life, because only God is capable of granting life – and new life.

In the Book of Revelation, the disciple John saw Jesus. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, for I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Jesus holds the keys to death. He makes a way through death. When we see his mighty power and we proclaim his name in faith, we are granted eternal life. Jesus makes a way for us to where our hearts desire to go.

God’s displays of power, then, are not designed primarily to bring death, although that might be how it seems in the case of the ten plagues of Egypt. But instead, God’s displays of power are geared to bring life. Remember, we ought to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6). As we humble ourselves, we are granted life. 

Of course, sometimes we don’t humble ourselves. We exalt ourselves. The danger is in our efforts to curb the power of God – or to create checks on Him. Sometimes, we might act as if we were members of Congress wanting to take the “nuclear football” from the president. “Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” we might say.

So we seek ways to put checks on God’s power in our lives. For instance, we read God’s Word, and then we read the latest self-help guru. Or we listen to our nonbelieving friends down the road. Or we trust our sentiments and preferences. 

We harden our hearts. We know God’s power, but we don’t live as if we do. 

In our church this year, we are going to have some discussions about gender and sexuality and the relationship between men and women. We’ll talk about God’s creation and how he ordered the universe and families and his church.

And one of the temptations people have when addressing these issues is to forget God’s unilateral and unshaking authority. We want to insert ourselves and our desires, our sentiments and modern sensibilities, into the equation. But God is in charge. He created the universe, and we did not. 

It calls for humility on our part. And faith. And we can expect God’s blessing as we obey him.

Chris

Exodus 8: Frogs

Dear church,

I wonder if one of the problems in our country is our refusal to draw lines. 

I was thinking a bit about abortion last week with the passage and immediate challenge of South Carolina’s “heartbeat bill” – and our reading about the baby boys of Israel being thrown into the Nile River. Human life is precious to God.

And so I started to think about our unwillingness to draw lines. 

In the abortion debate, many people are unwilling to clearly delineate when life actually starts – at conception, heartbeat, viability, birth, etc. The point in time in which life begins becomes a moving target. And so our culture struggles to draw the line. Some people don’t want to offend other people, and some care about certain rights more than others. And so no lines are drawn.

The Bible, of course, indicates life begins at conception. God knits human beings together in the womb (Psalm 139).

I wonder if this refusal to draw lines is becoming a real problem in our culture. For instance, the idea of subjective morality has become pretty commonplace around us. What’s right for you may not be right for me, and that’s OK. “To each his own,” we say. We won’t draw lines, even though there is an absolute right and wrong in the moral realm.

The president of the United States recently refused to draw moral lines about human rights abuses in China. It’s about cultural differences, he said.

And then we come into the issue of sexuality and gender. What is a holy relationship? Are there real differences between men and women? Can a man actually become a woman? You’ve heard plenty about this already, I’m sure. 

We don’t want to draw lines. And our culture seems to be collapsing into chaos. We are punished by the very things by which we sin. 

Perhaps that’s the point I’ve arrived at for now: We are punished by the very things by which we sin.

Our refusal to draw hard lines between right and wrong leaves us confused and unsure. And we are growing weak as a nation.

The Egyptians had a god of prosperity and fertility named Hepat. When they created images of this god, he looked like the head of a frog. 

And so came the second plague sent by God on the land of Egypt. They were punished by the very things by which they sinned. Their idolatry came back to bite them – or at least to croak at them. 

This ought to make us think carefully about our own sin histories. Have you fallen into pride or lust or an insatiable desire to control things? Have you fallen into greed and covetousness? What about deceit or the fudging of the truth? What about holding back from God?

Are there any ways those sins and sinful tendencies have come back to haunt your life?

Even for his children – those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and who are living by the fruit of the Spirit today – God offers his discipline for our good (Hebrews 12:5ff).

I used the word “punishment” above, but it also could be “training.” We are trained by the very things by which we sin. The difference is in where we put our hope and in our understanding of ourselves as children of God who are being sanctified.

The Pharaoh, of course, rejected all of this. And there were still eight plagues to come.

Chris

Exodus 7: Digging for water

Dear church,

Water symbolizes life. This is probably a universal symbol because all cultures understand the importance of water. Without it, life cannot be. 

The search for water on Mars and other planets is, therefore, a critical one. Scientists can know a lot about a place if they can find water. Life might be possible if water is present. If there’s no water, there can be no life.

The Nile River was thought by the Egyptians to be a manifestation of their god Osiris. The river was something to worship. Meanwhile, the Hebrew baby boys had been thrown into that river years earlier. When you think about it, it already was a river stained with blood.

It is fitting then what God did – this first of the ten plagues – in taking the Egyptians’ symbol of life and turning it into a symbol of death. Dead fish rose to the surface. Nothing could live there. And the Bible says, “the Nile stank.”

Perhaps there is an element here of, “You reap what you sow” – the blood of the baby boys bubbling to the top and cursing their Egyptian rulers. 

Faced with a horrible predicament, the Egyptians began to dig. They sought fresh water along the banks of the river. I imagine it was a desperate time, shoveling out holes in search of water.

What the Egyptians did not know and what they refused to understand was that God is the source of all life. The frequent references to water in connection with God and with Jesus Christ are meant to keep this clearly in focus for us (John 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

But this doesn’t stop people, including ourselves sometimes, from digging. The things we rely on for life, outside of God, sometimes turn into something less than that. And yet we forget sometimes that life originates and is sustained by God and no amount of digging will help us. 

Only faith will do.

The Egyptians had deified material objects. They lived in a world of idolatry. They were running in the wrong direction. They were digging in the wrong direction.

Are you? There is plenty of water.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).

Chris

Exodus 6: God’s name

Dear church,

Do you love God merely because he gives you good things – life, support, peace of mind? Or do you also love God because he is your deliverer?

The people of Israel were about to discover God not only as the giver of promises, but also as the God who brings his undeserving people out of bondage. He would become to them their rescuer. 

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.”

God was about to make himself known to his people as their Lord. This his God’s name, and it is connected with the ideas of deliverance, redemption, and freedom. It is connected to the idea of mercy.

If you have time today, read Psalms 105 and 106. They tell the story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The people don’t come across as glowing examples of faith in these texts. Rather, it is God who acts on his own accord. Psalm 106:8 says, “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake.”

There are other scriptures you could dive into today as well – Ezekiel 20:5-14 and Exodus 33:19.

If we are to love God fully, we must first recognize that God loves us and has provided mercy to us that is completely unmerited by anything we have done. God chose to save us from sin through Jesus Christ and the cross, and God chose to do this on his own accord.

Yes, he gives us good things. This life we live is proof of that. This beautiful season in the mountains is further evidence of God’s goodness.

But he is our Savior, our Deliverer, and our Redeemer. He saw us under slavery to sin, and he brought us out. 

I think God wants his children to see him in that light – as the one who simply acts in his lovingkindness to save people who really aren’t deserving of it. It is God’s nature to act this way. 

Our only response is gratitude.

Chris

Exodus 5: ‘Get back to your burdens’

Dear church,

One of the things I have found interesting during the COVID-19 pandemic is the willingness of secular government officials to look Christians in the eye and, without blinking, tell them they no longer can practice their religion as they’ve been called by God to practice it. 

These restrictions come in a variety of forms, from how many members of the church family can gather at one time to how close those members can sit or stand in relation to one another. Government officials also dictate what a person should wear to his or her worship gatherings – a mask, of course – and they sometimes dictate the form that worship can take. For instance, some jurisdictions say worshippers may not sing when they gather. You know all of this already, of course.

And Pharaoh said to Moses, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” The request was that the people could be free to go worship God in the wilderness. And Pharaoh declined the request. Pharaoh viewed himself as the final authority on such matters. “Get back to your burdens,” he said.

In other words, what really mattered was that the people served the Pharaoh and his government. What really mattered was that they served the greater society with more and more bricks. The Israelites’ obligation to Pharaoh and his government was more important than their duty to God. Or so Pharaoh thought.  

Of course, Pharaoh was an idol-worshipper. It is idolatry to worship anything but the one true God. Our own secular government officials, many of them I suppose, are idolaters. And they dictate to the church how true religion ought to be practiced. In their minds, our duty to the government is more important than our duty to God. “Get back to your burdens.”

Some Christians, of course, will argue that it is our religious duty to obey the government, and it is our religious duty to love our neighbors by not worshiping the way we normally would. These Christians make good points. But surely they would agree we aren’t to submit to our governing authorities in every circumstance. Sometimes, the government can stand in the way of the gospel. And we don’t have to be complete anarchists and rabble-rousers to politely decline to obey the government’s directives about our worship. 

I would agree it is our religious duty to love our one another and to possibly do so by not worshipping corporately for a time. But it is not the government’s job to enforce our religious duties.

And so I saw some parallels between Exodus 5 and our current circumstances. Many of our secular governing authorities, like Pharaoh, are ignorant about true religion, and they can be arrogant about their right to regulate it. 

We ought to understand that our secular governing authorities are in error about the most important things in life. To the government, the most important thing is physical life – to protect physical human life and physical human flourishing. Pharaoh was concerned chiefly with the welfare of his kingdom (Exodus 1:9-10). And so the government’s edicts are aimed in that direction. Nothing is of higher value than physical human life. And people will be shamed if they don’t see things in the same light.

But Christians don’t see things in the same light. The ultimate good is not physical human life in the here and now – although we do value physical human life because it was created by God and inhabited by Christ. Our physical bodies are highly valuable to us and to God, but the human soul someday will inhabit a resurrected body (immune to COVID-19). And that is where Christians are trained by the gospel to set our sights. 

And so the secular government is in error about the most important thing in life. And in the government’s pride, it sometimes tries to impose its error upon the church. Government regulation tries to take our eyes off what is most important – the human soul someday living in a resurrected body – and shift our eyes to what the government thinks is important, our physical lives in the here and now. 

There’s a lot of nuance in this discussion, of course. We do desire people to stay alive long enough to hear the gospel. And our disregard for the government’s mandates can lead to our own attitudes of superiority and rebellion. So we must be careful.

But the Pharaoh’s attitude seems to be the same as the attitude of so many government officials in our day: “Who is the Lord? … Get back to your burdens.”

Prayerfully consider these things today. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Chris

Exodus 4: A bridegroom of blood

Dear church,

Faith is a mysterious thing. 

Some people, it seems to me, have faith in great abundance. Faith in God seems to come very naturally to them. They either do not question the ways of God or their questions are bathed with faith. Their faith never wavers even as they seek to figure out the seemingly confusing things about God.

Meanwhile, for other people, faith is not so easy to come by. Some simply cannot believe God exists. In thinking about the origin of the universe, for instance, the very last option they may consider is the possibility an all-powerful Being set everything in motion. They would much rather think about more materialistic origins of the universe – whatever those might be. 

So is faith just something some people have and others do not? Is it like blue eyes versus brown eyes? Some have one kind and others have another kind? I don’t think so because I think faith has more to do with the human will than eye color does. 

To be people of faith means we are more than just people who believe something to be true. It also means we must act according to that faith. If I trust you, I believe you will do what you say you will do, and I will act accordingly. This comes out of my will. I decide of my own accord that you are trustworthy, and I live as though that were true. 

This is why we can have all sorts of doubts about God and his ways and still be people of faith. A person can be naturally trusting or naturally skeptical and still be a person of God. Our natural predisposition doesn’t matter as much as what we decide to do about God – to trust in him or not. And by God, I also mean Christ.

The writer of Hebrews said, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

We see in that verse the importance of faith. It is critically important to our relationship with God. If we don’t have faith – that willful trust in God’s existence and in his goodness toward his children – we are hopelessly lost. At least, that’s how I read it. We must believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved (John 3:16).

If there is one thing that is different between a person who is destined for heaven and a person who is destined for hell, this must be the thing. And so faith is very important. 

And you can begin to have faith right now, in this moment. Just decide in your heart, out of your personal human will, that Jesus is who he says he is and that he did the things the Bible says he did – namely dying on the cross for our sins and rising again to new life. 

It is impossible to please God without that kind of faith.

So what does this have to do with Exodus 4? I began to think about faith as a necessary component to our relationship with God because it appears Moses forgot about a necessary component in his own relationship with God.

Circumcision was the mark of faith in God and his covenant with the Hebrew people. The descendants of Abraham – if they were part of the covenant community – had to be circumcised. I assume Moses was circumcised as a baby during those three months in which his parents hid him away. But Moses didn’t circumcise his son, and we don’t know why.

How could Moses possibly lead the Hebrew people out of slavery if he wasn’t following, in faith, the commands of God? It almost cost him his life. Afterward, Moses could thank the Lord for a godly wife, who acted in faith and who pleased God. (There’s a message about blood here, too, but that will have to be for another day.)

For Christians, circumcision continues to be the mark of faith in God. But it is not physical circumcision. Rather, it is a circumcision of the heart that is performed by God himself after we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The apostle Paul, under the new covenant of Christ, wrote “circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29).

Paul also wrote, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11).

So I suppose the thought for the day, for me, is the need to trust God and to live into that trust. There are all sorts of areas where I have questions about God and his ways. And I think God wants me to dig into those areas, to study them, and to pray about them.

But God also wants me to trust him. Even when I don’t fully understand, he wants me to believe in him – to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And, of course, this results in real changes in how I live my life. My heart has been circumcised by God, and I now trust God by being obedient to, not neglectful of, his commands. 

Chris

Exodus 3: The burning bush

Dear church, 

In the New Testament, the writer of the Book of Hebrews called God a “consuming fire.” The writer was urging the church to offer God reverent worship, recognizing God’s coming judgment of the world. The church is part of God’s unshakeable kingdom, the writer said, and so we should be grateful, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

God’s power over creation is something every Christian should keep in mind. We are part of that creation, and we have lived apart from God, doing things that we ought not to do. We are sinners. We should receive God’s judgment. And yet God made a way for us to be part of his eternal kingdom – not because of anything we’ve done but because of his own mercy.

Still, we have a powerful and just and holy God. He is to be respected. His holiness is such that it consumes all sin. 

The disciple Peter described God’s final judgment of his creation, which I assume will precede his creation of a new heaven and earth, as a fiery one: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).

And so, yes, God is a consuming fire. And we ought to view him that way – respectfully. 

This picture, then, in Exodus 3 of a bush that was burning and yet not consumed is one that should make us think of God’s patience and grace. The writer of Exodus noted the bush was not consumed by the fire, and Moses turned aside to see this sight because of the fact the bush was not consumed. It was an important element of the story.

When I think of this, I think – again – of how grateful we should be to be able to stand in God’s presence. A bush that’s on fire but not burning up is a remarkable thing. These things don’t happen naturally. 

The natural consequence of putting a match to piece of wood is a fire that consumes the wood. The natural consequence of sinners coming into contact with the God who is a consuming fire is our own destruction. We cannot stand in his presence.

And yet, we do!

So God is gracious and patient with us. Because of Christ, he wipes away the sins of his children. And so he can live in us without destroying us. Think of the “tongues as of fire” that marked the day of Pentecost, when the first Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s presence filled them and yet they were not burned up.

Some Bible interpreters note the burning bush is a good picture of the church. The church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, speaks the Word of God to a puzzled world. And the people of the church, even though they are in such close contact with this all-powerful “consuming fire,” are not burned up. We remain as we are – fragile, obscure, ordinary humans.

The fire is God’s. We just carry it.

One more idea to consider with this text: God allows us to be who we are. Because we are not consumed, I can be me and you can be you. Our personalities and our human histories are not charred away. God doesn’t override us as fragile humans. He loves us and speaks through us. Over time, yes, he burns away our sinfulness, yes. But he is so gentle with us.

Think about these things today.

Chris

Exodus 2: Hidden

Dear church,

The command to throw the baby boys into the Nile River was an awful thing. The parents of Moses must have seen this very clearly the moment they laid eyes on their baby son. He was “a fine child.” The Hebrew at that point can be translated in other ways, but the ESV gives it to us like that – Moses was “a fine child.”

It could be that Moses was a good-looking baby. It could be that Moses’ parents sensed some sort of greater purpose for this boy. But it also could be that they saw, simply, that he was a fine child. The Hebrew there actually is similar to the common phrase in the creation account of Genesis 1, where God saw that his creation was good. 

This was an infant person, and human life is a good thing. Human life is not a thing to be thrown to the crocodiles. It is something to be cherished and valued. 

And so Moses’ parents hid the boy for three months. I picture them keeping visitors out of their home and of muffling the sounds of the baby’s cries, especially in the middle of the night when babies tend to wake everyone up hungry. “She hid him three months.” She would not throw this baby boy into the Nile. 

The South Carolina governor signed a bill into law in recent days that prohibits most abortions in his state that occur after a heartbeat has been detected in the womb. The governor said when he signed the bill, “If there is not a right to life, what rights are there? We’re here to protect that. We have a duty … to protect life above all else.”

Moses was “a fine child.” His mother refused to throw him into the Nile. She and her husband might have said to themselves, “If there’s not a right to life, what rights are there?” And they chose to protect the life of that baby by hiding him in their home for three months. 

This is not to say Moses and his parents were not in danger during those three months. The forces that sought to take life, to treat it as some disposable thing and as some kind of nuisance, were always present. The order from Pharaoh remained in effect: “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile.”

The parents who sought life for their child were living in direct opposition to that law. They would not abide with it. 

In some ways, this early portion of the exodus story is all about what a person thinks about life. We recall those midwives who would not kill off the baby boys upon birth. The first chapter of Exodus tells us twice that the midwives “feared God.” 

There was something in them that saw new life and would not submit to the command to take it. Such commands come from prideful humanity. Only prideful humanity can look at the miracle of new life and then snuff it out. 

The psalmist wrote to God, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).

According to the Bible, human life is something that has been formed and knitted and weaved together by God himself. To tear apart something that has been knitted together by God is sinful. To treat that thing as disposable and inconvenient and threatening to a nation or a lifestyle is contrary to the very nature of the God of life. Moses was “a fine child.” God created humanity and he called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

The attitude that undergirded Pharaoh’s order to throw the baby boys into the Nile River is no different than the attitude of the abortion providers who promptly filed a lawsuit against South Carolina’s heartbeat bill. It is an attitude that parades as being helpful and protective but is one that willfully disregards human beings as people who are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

The president of the South Carolina Planned Parenthood said, “We will never back down from this fight.” That is, they will never back down from the fight to ensure babies can be thrown into the Nile. The threat remains.

And Moses was hidden by his mother and his father for three months. But no one was going to come to the rescue. Pharaoh would never back down from that fight.

That three months of hiding baby Moses was significant to the first Christians. They didn’t ignore the actions of Moses’ parents. The writer of Hebrews enshrined Moses’ father and mother into the “hall of fame” of the faith.

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23).

This hiding of the child Moses was an act of faith. His parents saw something holy and good in this new life, and they lived unafraid of Pharaoh. They were wise and judicious, certainly. They hid the child. To parade the baby boy around town, I suppose, would have meant death to all of them. And so they hid him away, and they hoped. And they did this “by faith.”

What is this “faith” that they had? 

Well, faith certainly overcomes fear. They were not afraid of the king’s edict. Faith and fear frequently seem at odds with each other in Scripture. When Jesus was asleep on the boat in the storm, the disciples were beside themselves in fear. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus calmed the waters and then asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:35-41).

And so Moses’ parents lacked fear. Instead, they had faith in God. This faith is, as the writer of Hebrews put it, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of thins not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In broad strokes, according to the writer of Hebrews, this means the people of God always trust in the promises of God, no matter what, even if they can’t really grab hold of those promises in the here and now. 

For Moses’ parents, it meant that they trusted God even if they couldn’t see a good way out of their predicament. How could this baby boy live in this culture of death? By the same token, I suppose they remembered the promises given to Abraham, the one that undergirded their very nation – promises for a land, a nation, and the blessing. 

And so, like the midwives who feared God and refused to put the baby boys to death, Moses’ parents hid their son in faith. And they took three months, and they gave God room to act. And God did. 

I suppose the point thus far in the story of Moses’ young life is twofold.

First, the people of God exist in a world filled with pride and death. And it is death that wants to consume life itself. It is death that actively pursues the people of life – God’s people. The disciple Peter said, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Moses pre-figures Christ in that he, too, had to be hidden as a baby from forces that wanted to kill him. Jesus’ parents were told by an angel, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13). And of course we know what Herod did to the children of Bethlehem. It was not too far off from the viciousness of Pharaoh. 

And at the end of the New Testament, all of this is summarized in Revelation 12. It tells the story of the people of faith, the church, giving birth to a son. And waiting for that child was a great red dragon ready to “devour” the child (Revelation 12:1-6). And this is a picture of the plan of God coming into opposition with the forces of this world. 

And this is the world where we live. We exist as the people of God in a world filled with pride and death. That’s the first point in this story of Moses’ young life. God’s plan faces opposition in the world. 

The second point is this: In this culture of death where the people of God exist, we are to see life for what it is – a good thing. And we are to protect it. We are to live without fear in the face of that hostility and to trust in the plan and promises of God. 

Back in Hebrews where Moses’ parents (I think especially his mother) are commended for their faith in hiding their son for three months, another woman is commended for her faith. Rahab lived in a culture of death among the Canaanites. “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). She, too, protected life in the face of a culture of death (Joshua 2).

And so we have a reality and mission. We live in a world that is hostile to life. And we are to faithfully and fearlessly seek to protect life. 

One of the interesting things about the South Carolina heartbeat bill is that when a heartbeat is not yet detected in a mother’s womb and when an abortion is permissible, the doctors must wait one hour after the ultrasound before performing the abortion. After that quiet ultrasound, when everyone still knows the baby is very much alive inside the mother’s womb, the doctors are to halt the proceedings. The mother is given time. That one hour, I suppose, is important. 

A lot of thinking can be done in one hour. In that sixty minutes of waiting, you have created space to consider – and to re-consider. 

Sometimes we live by faith and all we are doing as we live by faith is creating space for God to act. In faith, we leave room for the Almighty. Our acting in faith is nothing more than trusting that God will provide – of continuing with our best wisdom and looking for God to act. 

And we never cease to trust him.

When Moses’ parents finally could hide the baby no longer, they built him a little boat. The word there is used one other place in Scripture, back in Genesis. The Hebrew word (tebah) is “ark.”

And we see faith in action. Moses’ parents might have said to each other, “We will build a boat. Perhaps God will save him.” And Moses was joined with Noah – saved by the hand of God on an ark. 

Moses was put into the Nile River as required by law. And he was saved out of the water in the unlikeliest of ways. And God’s plan continued.

So what are we to do with a story like this – with a teaching of Scripture like this?

I suppose the overarching theme(s) in these first few verses of Exodus 2 is this: We should value life in this culture of death and faithfully and fearlessly seek to protect it. And if we can’t do it ourselves, we try to leave room for the hand of God.

Life is precious to God – created and sustained by him alone (Genesis 1; Psalm 139). And this culture of death is pervasive and has been this way throughout history. Satan always has sought to snuff out the plan of God for his people (Exodus 1-2; Matthew 2; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12).

And we should fearlessly and faithfully seek to protect life and advance God’s kingdom on earth – like Moses’ parents, and like Rahab and Mary and Joseph (Hebrews 11; Joshua 2; Matthew 2; Mark 4).

And sometimes we just need to create space for God to work. We can do this through prayer and faithful endurance.

Chris