Remember

Exodus 28-29

Exodus 29 42b NIV

I’ve been a pastor for 35 years.  I’ve pastored local congregations.  I’ve served on the mission field in a different country.  I’ve served as a hospice chaplain with people who have been diagnosed with life ending diseases and as a hospital chaplain with people who are very sick, or having surgery, or recovering from surgery or recovering from pneumonia, or have attempted suicide or are struggling with mental health issues and need extra support.  I preach each week to people in the nursing home and those who are suffering from Alzheimers and other forms of dementia.  I’ve stood at the bedside and prayed with families whose loved one is about to die or who has already died.  I’ve prayed blessings over newborn babies and people over 100 and everywhere in between.

The one common need I find over and over again is the need of the person going through crisis to know that God is with them.  Everyone goes through challenges and difficulties, losses and pains in life.  It’s not a question of, “Will bad things happen?”  or even, “Why do bad things happen?”, it’s more a case of, “When bad things happen what resources do you have to draw from to help you get through it?”

As God’s people, Israel was being transformed from slaves to the people of God who were to be a light to all nations, they were going to face many challenges on that journey of transformation.  They had a desert to cross.  They had numerous enemies to face who all wanted to prevent them from reaching the promised land, and once they arrived in the land, there were enemies who wanted to take the land away from them and turn their hearts away from undivided loyalty to God.

To get through these challenges Israel needed regular assurance that God knew them and that God was with them.  If you’ve been a Christian for most of your life, it is likely that you know these things already.  You know that God knows you by name, that before He formed you in your mother’s womb he knew you.  You know Jesus’ promise that he will be with you always, to the end of the age, right?  There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right?  (More about that in a minute).

The people of Israel were spiritual babies.  They were just starting to learn about who this God is and to get used to the idea that God would stay with them and not abandon them.  They needed a lot of reminders.  So, in addition to having a tent of meeting constructed in their midst (see yesterday’s devotion) they needed to know that they had representatives who would go before God regularly on their behalf.  So God set aside a group of men who would serve as priests.  They had a special calling and were set apart or consecrated to do the work of a priest.

Today’s reading describes the various pieces of clothing that the priests wore and the purpose of each item- ephod, breast piece, robe, tunic, turban, urim and thummin, gold plate, sashes etc…  of all of these descriptions in Exodus 28 one in particular stands out: “Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord. (11-12).  So when the priest went before God, he went bearing the names of the sons or tribes of Israel.  This was a reminder that they were there on behalf of the entire people of God.  The message for the people was that the priests would bear on their bodies a constant reminder to God of His beloved people.

We might ask the question,” if God is perfect and all knowing, why would he need such a reminder? ” I would say that the reminder wasn’t for God as much as it was for the people to have the assurance that they were being constantly brought before God.  Prayer works the same way for us.  When someone prays to God  on our behalf, they aren’t exactly bringing new information to God’s attention.  God knows our needs before we ask.  One of the benefits of intercessory prayer is to remind us that we are not alone in the midst of our needs.  When I was first diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and radiation lots of people were praying for me.  It brought me great comfort and encouragement to be reminded regularly that people were remembering me before God’s throne.

In Exodus 29 it provides a description of the rituals that were used to consecrate or set apart the priests for their duties of bringing the people before God.  Notice how the consecration involved sacrifices and blood.  In order for the priests to go before God on behalf of the people, their sin and guilt had to be covered over by blood.  In fact, every day, morning and night, a lamb was to be sacrificed to God. “For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the Lord. There I will meet you and speak to you;  there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.” (42-43)

This served as a constant reminder that God was holy and sinless, and that human beings are sinful and needed to be cleansed and forgiven of their guilt in order to come near to God’s presence.  As a result: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.  They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (45-46)  These daily sacrifices served as a constant assurance to God’s people that He was their God and that He was with them.

As Christians, we are not required to sacrifice a lamb day and night in order to be assured that God is with us.  Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He, as the high priest and the sacrificial lamb, went into the most holy place with his own blood and offered a sacrifice that covers over all of our sins once and for all. (Once you read the book of Exodus, the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is much easier to understand… check it out).  When Jesus was first prophesied in Isaiah 7 it was said that he would be a sign that God is with us (Immanuel means God is with us).  In the name of Jesus we can be assured that God is with us – not because we are perfect or sinless, we are no more sinless than the nation of Israel was, but we have been made holy by the blood of Jesus.

Earlier I asked the question: “There’s no way you would ever forget that God knows you and that Jesus is with you, right?”  That fact is, we all have times when we forget that God knows us and that Jesus is with us.  This is a danger when everything is going well in our lives- when we are busy enjoying the blessings that God gives us and are on a roll, we can get so caught up in enjoying the gifts that we forget to worship the one who gives them to us, God.  It is also a danger when things are tough and we are hurting and feel all alone or worry that God isn’t answering our prayers.  When we go through spiritual depression or the dark night of the soul we can forget that the Lord promised never to leave us.  We need constant reminders, in the good times and the bad times.  That’s why we need to gather regularly with other believers to find encouragement and strength, so we don’t forget.  That’s why we need to regularly break bread and drink the cup at communion, to help us remember.  You and I need ongoing reminders that God is with us, that God remembers us.  We need to know others are bringing our names before God in difficult times, and we need to remember to bring others before God during their difficult times.  We may not have to wear ephods and robes and rub lamb’s blood on us, but as Christians we are all priests and we all need to go before God regularly on behalf of each other and behalf of people in the world, in the name of Jesus.  Don’t forget to remember, God is with us and God will never forget you.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+28-29&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 30-32 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan (1) (1)

In God’s Presence

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 25 8 NIV

                Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes.  I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows.  I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors.  I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation.  I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.

                I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places.  Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.

                Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence.  God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.  As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship.  This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp.  The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst.  And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.

                How God chose to do this is quite interesting.  He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth.  However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.

                First, God began with their willing desire to give.  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).   This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.

                Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities?  If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery.  They had these items in their possession already.  Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning.  All of the materials were freely donated.  The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship.  In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle.  It truly was a communal place of worship.

                Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon.  However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.

                For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God.  For us, the Church itself is the temple of God.  I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church.  Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst.  There is no one single right way or place to worship God.  It is wherever God’s people come together.  Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern.  Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.

                One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today.  God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you.  We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us.  It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Transformation

Exodus 22-24

Exodus 22 31 a NIV

                Social transformation is often a long and painful process.  Think about efforts at equality within the United States.  The founders’ vision was for a society where everyone had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Declaration of Independence expressed this in 1776.  Yet it took nearly a century and a Civil War to bring an end to slavery.  It took nearly 150 years for women to be able to vote and it nearly 200 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make significant strides toward racial equality.

                How does one take a community that has been enslaved for over 400 years and transform them into a nation that shines a beacon of light to all other nations in the world pointing them to the true God.  How does an entire nation become holy, set apart for God’s service and God’s glory?

                This is the challenge that was before God, Moses and the nation of Israel.  They were leaving behind one type of structure, slavery, to enter into a new way of living.  They needed a new structure to help them know how to live.  They had to be taught how to live in community.  They had to be taught how to work, and how to rest, how to care for their neighbors, and how to punish wrongdoing that threatened to destroy their community.

                In today’s reading we see how God begins to organize and structure the transforming community of Israel.  He teaches them how they are to live and become a holy nation and a royal priesthood.  This transformation would not come quickly or easily.

                They had to be taught how to show respect for personal property: “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (22:1)  Those who steal must give restitution.

                They had to be taught to respect the family structure and to place their sexuality within proper boundaries: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” (22:16-17)

                They had to be taught that there were severe consequences for failing to follow appropriate sexual boundaries: “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.” (22:19).

                They had to be taught to have empathy and to show kindness to strangers and people who were different: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (22:21).

                They had to be taught to have compassion for people in the community who had suffered major losses: “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. (22:22).

                They had to be taught to show respect both to God and to their earthly leaders: “ Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (22:28)

                They had to be taught how to live as a just community by not giving false testimony, and by neither showing favoritism toward the poor nor withholding justice from the poor (23:1-6).

                They had to be taught to care for their bodies and minds by getting appropriate rest. (23:12).

                It was also important that everyone be taught these and other guidelines for how to live in community as God’s people and that they verbally acknowledge that they understand and intend to follow “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (24:3)

                Israel’s transformation from slavery to covenant people of God living a set apart life as the community of God’s people was a slow and challenging process.  It was painfully difficult, but necessary.  In the end, people failed more often than they succeeded to carrying out their assignments.  And yet, somehow, despite tremendous opposition from aggressive and hate filled neighbors, the Nation of Israel survived.

                As Christians, we can learn much from studying how God worked with His people Israel to bring about their transformation.  It is important to note that they were God’s people first, and then they were given this particular set of laws.  In the same way, as Christians, we become God’s people first, through faith in Jesus Christ, and then we commit to following Jesus and obeying Jesus’ commands.  We do not become God’s people by following laws, but by following Jesus Christ.  However, when we follow Jesus Christ, we do not descend into lawlessness.  Structure is still required.  So Jesus spends three years teaching his disciples how to live as the people of God who are called to be holy, set apart to be a light to all nations.  We complete the mission that the nation of Israel began, and we do so following the yoke or community guidelines as laid down by Jesus Christ.  The foundational teaching of Jesus is to Love God and Love our Neighbors.  That is a good place for each of us to start each day.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+22-24&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 25-27 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Set Apart

Exodus 19-21

Exodus 19 5 6a NIV

Today’s reading is probably one of the most familiar passages in the whole Bible for it includes the Ten Commandments.  It is important to understand the context of these commandments.  God entered into a covenantal relationship with Abraham and Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob and Jacob’s sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel.  God promised to bless and provide for his people and in exchange His people promised to be faithful and obedient to God and worship God alone.

After 400 years of slavery, Israel has grown from 12 sons and their immediate family to millions of people.  These people, God’s covenant people, will be settling in a land where they will need to live in community.  They are no longer slaves.  They are now responsible to live in that community in peace and productivity.   They need help to know how to live together.  God provides His people with the structure of how to live together as God’s people.  The Ten Commandments and subsequently nearly 600 additional laws were all designed to help them be healthy and blessed representatives of God to the rest of the world.

God loves all people.  We must never falsely believe that God only loves certain people.  God considers all human beings His children and loves them all.  God wants to be in a right relationship with all of his children; however, many are disobedient and have no willingness to be in a relationship with God and many deny that God even exists.

So God needed to start with one group of people and prepare them to be a special, chosen people who would bring the knowledge of God to others.  Exodus 19:5-6 says, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  A priest is one who helps connect people and God.  God would go on to designate priests in Israel to help the people connect with God, but His expectation for Israel was that the whole nation serve as priests to help other nations connect with God.  Because the who nation was being set apart by God to be priests for the world, they needed to live holy or set apart lives.  There were behavioral expectations that they were to follow.  They had to  be exclusively loyal to God, they could not murder, steal, lie, cheat, they were to be respectful and honoring of parents and not misuse God’s name.

Now we are completing what God began in Israel.  Through Christ we have entered into a covenant with God.  We are now the covenant people, we are called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  That is the Church’s role.  And God expects us to live lives of holiness as we are set apart to serve God.  As you read through the many laws in the Old Testament, recognize that some applied very narrowly to the Nation of Israel and do not necessarily apply to us.  Dietary laws and sanitary laws were important in Israel at the time they were given but are no longer applicable.  However, some of the laws which pertain to morality have been reaffirmed by Jesus Christ for the Church.  In other words, as Christians we are free to eat pork and worship on Sundays, but we are not free to practice polygamy or murder.

God is truly a God of grace and mercy, but God is also a God who hates sin and punishes sin.  In this way we are still to live in fear of the Lord: Exodus 20:20 “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+19-21&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 22-24 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Complaining

Exodus 16-18

stop complaining (1)

A number of years ago I led one of my churches through the 21 day Complaint Free Challenge.  The challenge was to go for 21 days in a row without complaining.  We each were given a purple wristband to wear throughout the challenge.  You were to wear the wristband on the same wrist for 21 straight days.  If you caught yourself complaining, then you had to switch your wristband to the opposite hand and start you 21 day challenge again.  Some of the studies I read said that it takes most people  about a year to go 21 consecutive days without complaining.  I forget how many months it took me to get to that point.

What was the purpose?  To help people break the habit of complaining.   For many people complaining is simply a bad habit.  Will Bowen, who invented the 21 Day No Complaining Challenge says that most people complain for one of 5 reasons using the acronym G.R.I.P.E.

Get Attention

Remove Responsibility

Inspire Envy

Power

Excuse Poor Performance

When we habitually complain to get attention, to remove responsibility (shift the blame) inspire envy, exert power or excuse our poor performance, we dig a behavioral rut and complaining becomes our default response to just about any situation.  That’s a sinful habit from which we need to repent.

In order to break the bad habit, like any bad habit, one must counter the undesired behavior with more desirable behavior.  The goal of the complaint free world experiment was to improve the world by reducing the amount of complaining that goes on.  During that process I became aware of just how often I did complain.  I don’t like hearing other people complain all of the time, I don’t think anyone does.  Parents don’t like to hear their kids complain all of the time.  Spouses don’t like to hear their husbands/wives complain all of the time.  Children don’t like to hear their parents complain all of the time.  Students don’t like to hear their teachers complain, and teachers, I’m sure don’t like to listen to their students complain.  Churches don’t enjoy hearing their pastor complain all of the time and pastors don’t like hearing church members complain a lot the time.  And guess what…even God gets fed up with human beings complaining all of the time.

In today’s reading, God has been busy taking care of Israel.  He led them out of slavery to the Egyptians by performing ten amazing signs.  When Israel was being chased down by Pharaoh’s army and looked like they were doomed for destruction, God miraculously parted the waters and brought them through on dry land.   God led them by cloud during the day and fire during the night.  God was taking them on a journey to a land that he was going to give them.  God was doing nothing but good for them.

And how did God’s people respond to all of this goodness?  They complained.  We’re thirsty… we’re hungry.  They sounded like a bunch of whiney kids on a long trip.  If you’ve gone on a long trip, the experience is very different for the parents up front and the children in the back.  Think about a family going on vacation.  The parents are the ones preparing for the trip.  Mom’s doing the laundry, packing everyones clothes, preparing snacks, arranging for neighbors to come and feed the animals and water the plants.  Dad is making sure the car is running well, changing the oil, getting the mail stopped, gassing up the car, checking the route to make sure there are no road closures.  The parents buy the tickets for wherever they are going, pay for the meals along the way, pay for the hotel rooms, make sure the kids have stuff to do in the car/van/suv.  And what do the kids do?  They complain: I’m hot… I’m bored… I’m hungry…I’m thirsty… I have to pee…  sisters looking… brother hit me… and are we there yet?  I had 11 children and I know what I’m talking about here.

Imagine Moses… and God.  They are moving roughly 2 million men, women and children across the wilderness toward the promise land.  There are no McDonalds on the journey.  There are no Holiday Inns with an indoor pool.  There are no air conditioned SUVs with built in blue ray players and no iPhones or Nintendo Switches to keep them occupied.  They are tired, they are hot, they are thirsty and hungry, and they are complaining… a lot!

If I’d been Moses or the Lord I would have been tempted to say “Ya’ll be quiet or we’re turning around and going back!”  Fortunately the Lord, and Moses have more patience and grace than I ever had:

Exodus 16:6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”  9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”  10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.  11 The Lord said to Moses,   12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

God heard their grumbling and he gave them quail and manna to eat.  There it was, as much as they wanted.  They were able to eat their fill.  And after that they never complained again. Well, that’s not true…. before long they were complaining about being thirsty too.

What God should have done was give each of them a purpose wristband to remind them not to complain.  It would take them a few more lessons before they quit complaining.

I’m sure God does get tired of hearing our complaining… but he still loves us and he even gives us ways to complain in the Bible.  Many of the Psalms are called Psalms of complaint and/or Psalms of lament.  Jesus himself, while he was on the cross prayed  one of those Psalms of complaint/lament, Psalm 22 which begins: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”   When we are suffering real pain, real sorrow, real trials, God wants us to turn those into heart felt prayer and we should.  God is able to handle our complaints and do something about them.  At the same time, too often our complaining comes from a place of ingratitude.  The ungrateful complaining that fails to acknowledge and appreciate God’s blessings needs to stop; legitimate complaining for true hurt in faith is something God is ready and able to hear and respond to for his glory and our blessing.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+16-18&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 19-21 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Growing in Trust

Exodus 13-15

Exodus 13 21 NIV

Sometimes, when a person makes a major purchase, like buying a new car or a new house they come down with a phenomenon known as “buyer’s remorse.”  Buyers remorse happens when you second guess that decision.  Yes, you like that new car and all.  You could think about how wonderful it would be when you drive it down the highway.  But when that first car payment comes due and you see how much of your paycheck goes out every month… and will continue to go out for the next 4 or 5 or 6 years, you can have buyer’s remorse.  It can be even worse when you realize that that dream house you’ve always wanted requires 1/4 of your paycheck every month and will for the next 30 years.  Yikes!  Buyers remorse has to do with regretting that important decision.

After the 10 plagues, the last of which included the death of his firstborn son, Pharaoh was so devastated that he let the Israelite slaves leave.  He wanted to be rid of them.  Their God had displayed His power and Pharaoh’s hubris was finally knocked down.  But like a boxer in a ring who has been knocked senseless by a much stronger opponent, Pharaoh still manages to get back up on his feet and try again.  He realizes that he’s suddenly lost a significant part of his workforce.  600,000-able bodied men were gone.  Who was going to build Pharaoh’s cities and pyramids and harvest their crops?  Pharaoh has buyer’s remorse.  He wants to get those slaves back.  So he assembles his army, the most powerful army in the world, and sends out the chariots and soldiers to chase down the Israelites traveling by foot.

Meanwhile, God is making his visible presence known to Israel.  He’s leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  This was important.  God’s people were no doubt very disoriented.  They were leaving a place that was known and familiar to them.  For over 400 years they had been living in Egypt.  They were now going to a land which they had never been.  They may have heard stories from their parents and grandparents about this land, but chances are that after 400 years, it had all but been forgotten in Israel’s memory.  They had no idea where they were going.  So they needed some visible assurance that God really was with them.  So he made Himself visible.  I’m sure that this brought some comfort to the traveling Israelites… until they heard the sound of Pharaoh’s army, with it’s galloping hoofbeats bearing down upon them.  As they looked forward to their escape route, there was nothing but the vast sea before them, and behind, the most powerful army in the world.

In despair they cried out to Moses- “why did you bring us out here to die, weren’t there enough graves in Egypt to hold our bodies?”  The sarcasm would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high.  These people truly were terrified.  Yes, they could see that God was leading them- his tangible, visible presence was right there… and yes, God had performed 10 great signs in Egypt.  But they were still scared.

It is normal to get scared when scary things are about to happen to you.  It would take the nation of Israel a long time before they would begin to really trust God in all things.

I’m a baseball fan.  Over the last 8-9 years I’ve watched the Washington Nationals play a lot of baseball.  They have been a very good team for years, but unfortunately, too many times that great team fell apart during the playoffs.  Every time they were in a do or die situation in the playoffs, they lost that deciding game and were eliminated from the playoffs.  This happened over and over again.  So when the 2019 playoffs started, and the Nationals played the Milwaukee Brewers in the one game wild-card play off and they were behind by 3 runs, I started thinking “Oh no, not again!  We’re gonna lose once again.”  But they didn’t!  They came back and beat the Brewers.   Wow!  It was different.  After all these years they won a playoff series.  But then they played the mighty Dodgers.  Once again they go behind 2 games to 1 and were facing an elimination game.  They were behind and it was getting late in the game, and then miraculously, they tied it up and went into extra innings, and then Howie Kendrick hit a 10th inning grand slam and the Nationals won another series.  They moved on to the next round, where they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in 4 games.  By this time I was becoming a believer.  So much that when they played the Houston Astros in the World Series and got down three games to two and were facing elimination, I suddenly wasn’t worried any more.  I had become a believer.  I just knew that they would come back and win… and they did.

So Israel can be excused for fearing Pharaoh’s army and believing that the worst was was about to happen.  But once again, God showed up in a powerful way, the seas were parted and Israel went through on dry land, and Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the sea as they gave chase.

How many times does God need to show up before we begin to trust?  For me, it only took a few come from behind wins for be to begin believing in the Nationals and placing my confidence in their ability to come back and win.  It would take quite a few more wins before Israel would finally come to fully trust God.  What will it take for you to fully trust God?  Israel’s story is, in many ways our story too.  We can read these stories and have our faith strengthened to help us keep trusting God even in the middle of hard times.  God is with us and God has the power to display His ultimate victory over the forces of evil.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+13-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 16-18 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Light Dawns on the Dark Night of the Soul

Exodus 10-12

Exodus 10 1 2 NIV

As we go through life, there are times when it seems like God is very active and involved in our day to day lives and we sense God’s love, nearness and active interest in our lives.  However, if we are honest, there are other times when life seems to just move along and God doesn’t seem to be saying much or doing much on our behalf.  The technical term for this awareness of God’s absence is called “the dark night of the soul.”  Many growing Christians have and do experience times of God’s apparent absence in our lives.

As we read through the Bible it becomes apparent that there are times when God gets actively involved with His people.  God was there in creation, making the earth, making the plants and trees, making the animals, making Adam from dirt and Eve from Adam’s rib.  God was there in Eden talking openly and directly with Adam and Eve.  God was there asking Cain about his brother Abel.  But then we don’t hear much from God.  We know that people like Enoch “walked with God”, but we’re told very little about what God is up to for hundreds of years, as the population of earth increases and also the sin of humanity increases.  There is a long period of God’s apparent absence from history until the days of Noah when God appears to Noah and tells him to build the Ark because a flood is coming.

After the flood there appears to be more years of silence, until the Tower of Babel gets built and God comes down and confuses people’s language.  Then there is more silence from God until he calls Abraham.  And so on and so on…There are intermittent times where God is active and involved and times when God seems silent throughout the book of Genesis.

At the end of Genesis God saves Abraham’s family from famine by bringing them down to Egypt.  At first, all is well as Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson is the second most powerful man in all of Egypt.  But Joseph eventually dies, and he is no longer able to protect his family from the powerful Pharaoh, and eventually the descendants of Abraham are enslaved by the Egyptians.  This lasts for a period of roughly 400 years.  During that 400 years it seems that God is once again silent.

During that time Israel is growing from a few hundred people, to millions of people.  Millions of men, woman and children living in bondage in a foreign land.  Perhaps stories about God and their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were passed along by word of mouth, but we might imagine that so many years of silence may have left the nation of Israel in a permanent Dark Night of the Soul.  But then… out of the darkness and silence, Moses is born and becomes a member of the Egyptian royal family.  God is at work, but he’s not quite ready to make himself fully known to Israel.  Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the wilderness and it seems that the darkness continues and the voice of God remains silent…until God appears to Moses in the burning bush and tells him to go back to Egypt.

In Exodus 10-12 the time has come for God to make himself known to His people… and to Egypt. Exodus 10:1-2 – “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”

Here, God tells Moses that He’s about to make his presence known in a powerful way.  God’s about to show up, the darkness is ending, the silence is over.  And show up He does!  God shows up in a profound and powerful display of his power and might.  Bear in mind, Egypt was, at the time, the most powerful empire in the whole world.  Pharaoh was the most powerful person in the whole world.  Pharaoh had been exerting his power in a ruthless way over God’s chosen people for hundreds of years.  Lord Acton once said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  In the United States we live under a Constitutional system that intentionally balances power among three different branches of government- Executive, Legislative and Judicial.  This is to prevent any one person from having too much or absolute power.  These lessons were learned after observing thousands of years of kingdoms.  Pharaohs and other absolute monarchs have historically used their power in destructive and unjust ways.  And with such unmatched power comes hubris.

The Poet Percy Bysshe Shelly captures the hubris in his powerful poem Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Pharaoh, like Ozymandias in the poem, was filled with hubris over his unmatched power.  He believed himself to be king of kings.  He needed to be taught a lesson in humility by the true King of Kings.  God showed up.  Ten plagues later and all of Egypt was brought to their knees.  Meanwhile, the people of God began to see first hand just how great and powerful their King, the true God, YHWH really was.  That story has been told for thousands of years, and today, the people of Israel continue to sit down and eat bread without yeast and drink wine and remember the Passover and how powerful their God really is.

Sometimes, God seems to be silent, but make no mistake, God is still there and God is still powerful and in the end, God will show himself to be greater than all human opposition.  May you know the true God.

Jeff Fletcher