So Egypt Will Know

Exodus 7-9

Exodus 7 5 NIV

Moses does not believe that he can speak adequately, so what does God say? He does not tell Moses, “I am sorry. I picked the wrong man.” No. Instead He says, “I picked you for a reason. If you can not speak, then delegate that duty to Aaron.” God still says that He is going to speak through Moses, not Aaron. Once Aaron has received the words from Moses, then Aaron can speak them to Pharaoh. In fact, this is the way that religion is going to work for the rest of human history. God will pick a prophet, whether that prophet thinks he is capable or not, and will speak to the rest of humanity through that single person. God is also able to set up leadership through this prophet and the prophet can lead others and coordinate with them in order to achieve more and reach more people. This is what is established in the Levitical priesthood.

 

I recently heard an interesting interpretation on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. I have usually not been able to define the phrase “hardened heart” when I read it. This interpretation however, defines the hardening of a heart as making a man brave. Under this interpretation, God did not force Pharaoh to refuse to listen. Pharaoh first chose to ignore the words of God. Then, when he became fearful because of the plagues, he was willing to let the Israelites go. It is at this point that God makes Pharaoh brave, allowing the Pharaoh to hold to his original decision not to let them go. I think this interpretation has some merit and is interesting at least.

 

Why did God choose the plagues that he chose? Why did he turn the Nile to blood? He could have turned it to mud or dried it up or anything. Why did he send a plague of frogs? Why not crocodiles or giant river snakes or something a little more intimidating? Why gnats? Gnats are just tiny little things, a nuisance at worst. Well God is the mastermind behind all of this, so He must have known what he was doing. Let’s try to think about all of these plagues in the context of Egypt. We know that Egypt is full of sorcerers who have a handful of tricks. We also know that the Egyptians were polytheistic and had many zoomorphic gods. Finally, we know that the Pharaoh had been oppressing the Egyptians with hard work and even worse, had slaughtered all of their baby boys.

 

God could have just dried up all of the water in the Nile and it would have had the same effect. All the fish would die and begin to rot and stink. There would be no water to drink. Yet God chose blood. This relates to what I said yesterday about turning people by degrees. God is starting with a plague that the Egyptians think is mere magic. The same thing occurs for the frogs, but the magicians can not create gnats. There is definitely some symbolism to blood in the Nile, possibly referring to the Pharaoh’s slaughter of the newborns. I also think it has to do with the significance of the river to Egypt. That river was a large part of the economy for them, they relied on it. So God took it away. Man should rely on God because he is the source of life. Even at this point in history, people knew that blood is an essential part of life and thought that a person’s life was in their blood. Thus, by turning the river to blood, God is saying, “I give life and I take away life.”

 

The plague of frogs is a weird one for me. The way it is described makes it sound like an inconvenience; they are just everywhere. One commentator I read said that this was poking fun at the Egyptians gods Hapi and Heqt. God was directly challenging the gods of Egypt.

 

The gnats are particularly nasty. Have you ever been out on a run in the summer when all of a sudden your mouth is full of gnats? Maybe that is just me. It is one of the most unpleasant experiences. Now have you ever been in a dry, dusty field running around and kicking up dirt? That is also quite unpleasant. It gets tough to breath. One time I was in a situation like this and I had to keep blowing my nose until it stopped coming out black. Now replace the dust in this field with gnats. That is a nightmare.

 

I am going to stop there and ask that you ask yourself these questions and see if you can come up with an answer. Why flies? Why livestock? Why boils? Why hail? God has every tool imaginable at his disposal, yet He deems these to be the best plagues for this situation. Why is that?

 

 

Thanks everyone for starting this plan and sticking to it! If you started from the beginning, great job making it this far and if you are just joining, I hope that you are able to find a routine of your own or hop in with this one. There is nothing better for the mind than to focus on God’s word daily.

 

Thanks for reading,

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+7-9&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 10-12 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Called – & Equipped & Planned – by God

Exodus 4-6

exodus 6 7

Anytime God asks a question, you should be thinking to yourself, “Why would God need to ask that question if he already knows the answer?” Here, Moses doubts that he has any ability to convince anyone that he had spoken with God. Then God asks him this leading question as if Moses should have known that he already had everything that he needed to fulfill the duty that God called him to. When you are given a task by God, you had better believe that he has already equipped you for the job. The staff is already in your hand.

 

The method that Moses is given of turning his staff into a snake is an interesting one. The Egyptians sorcerers already have tricks like this; they can perform a similar feat. God always has a plan and he knows the hearts of his audience. He knows that when Moses’ staff turns into a snake, no one will be surprised because they have already seen sorcerers perform the same feat. Then why would God use this method? This is simply the first of many signs to come that will change the hearts of the audience by degrees. This is the same method that Socrates extolls as the tool of a great rhetorician. The great rhetorician will not attempt to change a man’s mind by presenting him with facts. On the contrary, he will use his knowledge of the man’s heart and what is familiar to the man, even if it is false. In this way, you can slowly turn the man’s thinking towards your position by degrees, small increments. This is how I see the signs that Moses performs before Pharaoh and all of Egypt. In other times throughout the Bible, prophets perform different signs and these signs are more suited to the people of that time and region. If Elijah had performed the signs that Moses performed, he may not have been a successful prophet because the signs of Moses are too different compared to what his community was used to experiencing. If this is the case, what kind of signs might God use in our modern age?

 

Yesterday we saw some of the ignorance and incompetence of the Pharaoh, and again we see it today. When he takes the straw away from the Israelites and demands the same quota, he is acting as a bad leader. There are leaders like this who still exist today, be it our teachers or our bosses. The bad leader sees the failures of his subordinates and reprimands them by increasing their workload or taking away resources which he sees as a crutch. Doing this only makes their productivity decrease. The good leader sees the shortcomings of his subordinates and reinforces them in their areas of need so that they can be productive and produce good results. I don’t see Pharaoh’s action in this case to be cruel, merely foolish; he sincerely does not know how to lead people.

 

When God speaks to Moses again, he says that he has heard the groaning of the Israelites. What is incredible about that is that well before he heard their groaning, he had a plan in place to save them. He took the evil of the murder of all baby boys and turned it into good by allowing Moses to live. He allowed Moses to grow in knowledge by being raised as an Egyptian. Then He met with Moses to show him the way to deliver his people. This plan was set into motion before the Israelites even knew they needed saving. That is the power of a God who does not operate on our time. By the time we realize that we are in trouble, God has already been working to get us out of it.

 

Nathaniel Johnson

 

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+4-6&version=NIV

Can you believe we are about 1/12 of the way through the Bible already!  (Genesis and Job are big books!)  The Bible has 1,189 chapters in all – which means on average reading 99 chapters a month to complete the Bible in a year.  Well Done!  And, if you haven’t been reading every day – February is a great time to get started!

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 7-9 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

God’s Deliverance Begins – Again

Exodus 1-3

Exodus 2 3 NIV

I had fun with today’s reading; I laughed out loud numerous times. I’m going to try to recreate some of the internal dialogue that was playing out in my head as I read it. Enjoy.

 

“We need to be shrewd with these Israelites. What should we do? I have a brilliant idea! Let’s enslave them.” – The new Pharaoh, probably.

Shrewd: having or showing sharp powers of judgment; astute.

I’m not sure the new king really knows what shrewd means. I suppose he was astute in his observation that the Israelites are more powerful than he, yet he is not displaying great judgement in putting shackles on the people who got to their current position thanks to a very shrewd man named Joseph. As Egypt will soon find out, God is great at providing the Israelites with shrewd men who are capable of delivering them at just the right time.

 

“Murder all the baby boys. Do it for king and country, why else? What’s that? It’s immoral to kill babies? Why would you possibly think that?” – Also the new Pharaoh, probably.

The midwives are smart enough to lie to the king and tell him that they aren’t responsible for the lives of these children (as if a person could be considered “responsible” for someone else continuing to live). They claim that the women giving birth are just so skilled at it that they do not need the assistance of a midwife. That is quite a longshot. When is the last time you heard of someone giving birth to a child without the assistance of a professional? Yet the king is dull enough to buy it. He sincerely believes that these women have no concept of morality other than to obey the edicts of their government. The midwives feared God over their government and followed the commands of morality and God instead of the king.

 

The mother of Moses saves him because she thinks he is beautiful. When is the last time a mother did not think their baby was beautiful? Every mother in this time must have been like her, attempting to hide their baby boys after seeing how beautiful they were. After all, the king made it the family’s duty to kill their own children. Moses’ mother was shrewd. She put him in a basket and set him out in the Nile, intending for him to survive. This sounds insane knowing what lurks in the Nile. She created the basket so that he would be protected, it was waterproofed with pitch. She placed it among the reeds so that it wouldn’t wash away. Finally, she had Miriam, Moses’ sister watch over the basket from a distance. His mother was certainly crafty. I believe she knew exactly what would happen next, otherwise she would not have done it. When Moses is found, his own mother is hired to raise him. That is the work of divine providence and the craftiness of Moses’ mother.

 

As a side note, the midrash states that Miriam had a significant role in leading Israel alongside Moses and Aaron after the Exodus. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/miriam-midrash-and-aggadah

 

The bloodlust of Levi comes out in Moses when he kills the Egyptian.

 

The burning bush seems unique at this point in the story. In the past, God had interacted with people by sending messengers. Abraham speaks with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob wrestles with God. Now we have Moses talking to God in a bush. It is a little different but this begins to be the pattern from here on out. We soon get the pillar of fire and cloud (which appears over the tent whenever Moses speaks with God), and the mountain covered in cloud when Moses receives the law. Later God identifies himself in a new way. He gives himself a name “I AM WHO I AM” or “I AM THAT I AM” which is the translation of the Hebrew YHWH. Up until this point, He has always identified Himself as “The God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” This encounter seems to be a turning point in the human story. From now on, a large group of people is going to interact with God in a personal way, they will address Him by name and they will be in close contact with Him.

 

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+1-3&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 4-6 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

See a Victory

Genesis 48-50

Genesis 50 20 NIV

Israel asks “Who are these?” in reference to Joseph’s sons. That’s a little odd considering the length of time that Israel had been in Egypt. Had he yet to meet his grandchild whom he has just claimed as his own children? Clearly he knows about them to declare that they will receive the same inheritance as Joseph and the other sons of Israel. I think it is more likely that he is, much like Joseph did with his brothers, playing a game with Joseph. He is trying to appear as if he is slightly senile so that he can get the last laugh. When Joseph brings his two children to Israel to receive their blessing, Israel reverses their order and blesses the younger first and the older second. We see in verse 17 that Joseph has bought into Israel’s ploy. Joseph talks to his father as if his father is confused and does not know what he is doing. Israel knows exactly what he is doing. This short interaction calls a few other stories to memory. Jacob himself received the blessing due to the firstborn, although he was younger than his brother Esau. The craftiness of Jacob was clearly passed on to Joseph. We also read in Genesis 38 that the twin children of Judah born to Tamar had their birth order reversed at the exact moment of birth, with the first one to feel fresh air being the second to be born. A clear theme emerges from all of these stories: “The last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). If this reversal of roles leaves you feeling satisfied, why? Perhaps you are exactly the opposite. This situation makes you indignant. Once again, why?

 

In Israel’s final words to his children, we get a little reminder of why Judah was given more responsibility than the firstborn Reuben. Judah’s older siblings are vicious. The plot to kill Joseph and the massacre of an entire Canaanite establishment are just two examples of their perverse ways. Levi was an awful man by all accounts, but the priesthood comes out of this tribe. We know that during the wandering, the Levites were responsible for carrying all of the elements of the Tabernacle. Perhaps that was a form of punishment for the sins of Levi. Conferring this holy duty to the levites could also be considered a way to correct their course. They were pushed to become the gatekeepers for all their brothers, providing the means necessary to receive the grace of God through sacrifice and all the religious acts.

 

The other thing that grabs my attention from these blessings is that Israel blesses Judah with rulership of his siblings. This is manifested in the Kingship later. It seems like a wise choice considering who the other options are. Yet Joseph would also be a fair choice, would he not? Joseph is the one who all of the siblings bowed down to in their lifetimes. Yet Israel confers his blessing upon Judah. One issue with the reign coming out of Joseph is the split of his tribe into two halves, leaving one to rule and the other to serve, even though both are equally entitled to the position. Instead, Israel puts both half-tribes under Judah.

 

Though Joseph was a man of great power and authority, he was also a man of great emotion and compassion. We see a reflection of God’s nature in him. After Israel’s death, his brothers beg for their lives at the feet of Joseph. By all rights, this is the state we should find ourselves in before God. Then Joseph delivers one of my favorite lines of the Bible: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good.” Those who attended reFuel will remember the song “See A Victory.” This song contains that line and I find great comfort in it. We must first experience the evil in order to come out on the other side and experience the good that God intended. Take comfort in God’s kindness.

 

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+48-50&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will begin the exciting book of Exodus – chapters 1-3 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Moving to Egypt

Genesis 46-47

Genesis 46 3 4a NIV

When Jacob receives a vision, we get almost no insight into his reaction. Verse 2 states that Jacob said, “Here I am.” but that does not indicate whether he has experienced this type of vision frequently or if this is the first time since he saw the vision at Bethel when he was young (Genesis 28). It also doesn’t tell us how he reacted to the vision. We know that he made a sacrifice to God on that same day, but after seeing the vision, there was no obvious change in Jacob’s plan. Before the vision, he was moving his family to Egypt and after the vision, he continued to move his family to Egypt. To us, the story would read exactly the same if verses 2-4 were left out. It would read, “Jacob came to Beer-sheba, and then he left.” Yet the author of this passage clearly wanted us to read verses 2-4 otherwise, he would not have included it. Why do you think these verses are included? My first inclination is that sometimes God will speak to us just to tell us that the path we are following is the right one and we should stay our course. Nothing changes before or after, and we may not even experience a change in confidence that our course was correct. In my experience, most of the times when it seems like God is telling me something, it is that I need to change. Perhaps I am missing, and should be paying attention to, the times when he is saying, “Keep on moving.”

 

The name Serah, daughter of Asher jumps out at me. She is the only granddaughter of Israel that is listed. What makes her so important as to be listed among her brothers? It turns out that she has a rich tradition in the Jewish Midrash, a rabbinical text that expanded and commented upon the books of the Old Testament. The texts hold that she had a part in the Exodus story, correctly identifying Moses as the prophet who would save the Israelites from enslavement to the Egyptians. Most Christians view the stories of the Midrash to be parables with some amount of truth to them, however they were kept as oral tradition and contain various historical contradictions, leading it to be kept out of our modern day Bible. If you are interested in learning more about Serah, you can read a great, yet lengthy article here: https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/serah-daughter-of-asher-midrash-and-aggadah

 

Goshen is described as being the best farmland in the area around Egypt. Here again we see Joseph being extremely cunning. He secures the land of Goshen, which he knows to be good land, for his family by making his family appear dirty. He convinces Pharaoh that his family are detestable and should be kept away from the center of Egypt, and in doing so guarantees that his family will have room to grow both in wealth and in size. When Joseph tells his family to say that they are shepherds, it almost sounds like he is trying to get them to lie. For the most part, it is true that they are shepherds. The family does keep animals, but I am sure that not every member of his family is directly involved in the handling of animals. By having each and every one of them claim to be a shepherd, he ensures that the family is not split off into two groups, the clean and the detestable. As a bonus, the Israelites are even put in charge of Pharaoh’s own livestock, but based on what we have seen from Joseph so far, I am confident that he knew this outcome would be achieved.

 

Chapter 47 verse 25 is striking. The men of the region sell themselves into slavery to Pharaoh and all that is required of them is that they give 20% of their income to the government? Most working Americans pay more than that on their income alone, let alone sales taxes, property tax and the like. Still, I would rather be a “slave” to the American government paying taxes and having access to medical care that does not involve surrounding myself with feces or drinking potions made from dog blood as the ancient Egyptians would. If that statement has sparked your interest, read on here (see “Techniques” and “Healing”): http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/magic_01.shtml
Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+46-47&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be the final chapters of Genesis  – 48-50 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

Joseph Reveals Himself

Genesis 43-45

Genesis 45 7 NIV

I think that after one day you understand how this set of devotions will work. They are casual, informal and straight to the point. With that, let’s pick up where we left off.

 

It is interesting in verse 8, that Judah is the one to bear responsibility for retrieving food. Reuben is the first-born of Israel and would be the de facto leader of the brothers, yet it is Judah who shoulders the burden of protecting his half-brother Benjamin on the journey back to Egypt. In times when it seems like someone is meant to be a leader, there is actually a gap to be filled. There are times when a gap is created when a leader fails to step up. Men fail. That is what we do. But there is always someone to fill that gap, even if that person never thought they were suited for that position. Where can I fill the gaps?

 

The steward who greets the sons of Israel is only a side character in this story, yet he is performing the duties that Jesus later commanded all of us to take on. In verse 24, it says that the steward provided water to wash their feet. Jesus took it a step further and washed feet himself. This side character was more powerful than a servant, yet he still performed some duties of the servant. Jesus has more authority even than this steward, and yet he lowered himself even further than the steward. This is true humility. We need to be willing to serve and be the side character.

 

Joseph is really quite crafty. First he develops this plot that will ensure that he is able to see his younger brother. He accuses the sons of Israel of spying on the land and learns of his younger brothers existence and then threatens the brothers so that they must bring Benjamin with them if they ever return. Yet Joseph knows that they must return. Joseph controls all of the grain in the region. The brothers must return. He even returns their money to guarantee two things. One is that they will have the money to purchase more grain in the future. The other is to entrap them in another of his schemes, that he might pay them back for their injustice to him or that he might force them to leave Benjamin with him. This idea comes up again at the end of chapter 44. When his brothers do return, he treats them to a feast to the brothers great confusion (see verse 33). They thought they were under suspicion of being spies, yet here they are being treated to a feast by the man who is second only to the Pharaoh of the most powerful civilization on the planet. That is quite a turn of events. But Joseph is not done playing with them yet. He plants his personal belongings in Benjamin’s bag. This is starting to look like the diabolical plot of an evil mastermind. In doing this, he will be able to reduce his brothers to groveling at his feet and will have also created a scenario where his only brother Benjamin must stay in Egypt.

 

Fortunately, Joseph is not an evil mastermind. He is just a cunning brother who longs to be with his family. Verse 1 of chapter 45 reveals this. In the end, all of his scheming only resulted in prolonging his isolation from his family. If he had revealed himself the first time that his brothers had come for food, he may have experienced the same outcome where his father’s entire household would move to Goshen and live with him. But then again, Joseph must have been afraid when he first saw his brothers. Remember, the last time he saw them, they were busy throwing him into pits (don’t worry, there wasn’t any water in it) and selling him into slavery. If you were in Joseph’s situation and were half as cunning as him, would you have acted the same?

 

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+43-45&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Genesis 46-47 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Firmly Decided

Genesis 41-42

Genesis 41 32 NIV

My intention for the next week of devotions is to provide a few of the thoughts and questions that arise when I read the section for the day. This insight into my mind will, by definition, be insightful, but I also hope that it provokes thought and encourages you to think of these passages in a new way. A novel approach to a passage may be novel, but it is up to the reader to determine whether such a perspective is beneficial. After all, the conventional wisdom regarding these passages is conventional for a reason (Jeremiah 6:16). This wisdom has been cultivated for centuries and even millennia in many cases. We should respect the paths that have been laid down for us by our predecessors but also inquire as to the motivation for the creation of these existing structures.

 

Let’s begin by looking at verse 32 of chapter 41. “The matter has been firmly decided by God.” This implies that God decides matters, sometimes firmly, sometimes softly. When is a time that God has decided a matter, but not firmly? The situation that probably comes to mind for most people is when God had promised to destroy all of Israel as punishment for creating the golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32:14). Even though God had stated what he would do, he “relented.” Are there other times in the Bible or in present when God has decided to do something and is yet willing to change course? Are there times when he won’t relent?

 

In a single day, Joseph is elevated from a foreign slave in prison to the second in command in all of Egypt, probably the most powerful and advanced civilization of the time. The way in which Joseph is promoted in the story is rather abrupt. It feels almost as though a portion of the story is missing. What transpired between Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and his promotion? The interpretation of the dream had not yet come true, but the Pharaoh still trusted the word of Joseph. The credibility with which Joseph spoke came from the previous times when he interpreted dreams. If Joseph had never been accused of impropriety with the wife of Potiphar, then he never would have been in a position to interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker. If he had never interpreted these dreams, then he never would have been promoted to his position over Egypt. This chain of events shows the foresight of God and how we need to trust that even in the bad times, the times that some may have intended for evil (ie Potiphar’s wife), God intends to use for good. The other thing of note in this short section is in Joseph’s reaction to the interpretation. He presented the problem to Pharaoh, but he also presented the solution and was ready to take action. If God provides special insight to you, you must be willing and able to take that insight and turn it into action. If you were incapable of action, would God have given you the insight? Take action.

 

Now that Joseph is in charge of storing food for the coming famine, he takes to accounting. This is an incredible feat that many of us don’t even bat an eye at. These events took place 3500-4000 years ago. Some historians claim that the Pharaoh of this time was Amenemhet, who reigned at the beginning of the twelfth dynasty. The twelfth dynasty is also the period when the oldest mathematical documents that have ever been uncovered were initially created. The Egyptians invented math. They were using fractions and solving geometry problems well before Socrates and Plato. In fact, they were about as far removed from the ancient Greeks in time as we are. That thought alone is mind boggling. This is all to setup my final point and to draw attention to what Joseph said of the amount of grain that he had stored up. He said that it was “beyond measure.” This phrase actually had meaning to Joseph and the Egyptians. They had been counting for centuries and had a hieroglyph for every number up to one million (𓁨 this is the unicode character for it). This glyph was used to represent the actual numeral one million or to signify “many.” It is a picture of a god with his hands raised to the sky. We take this kind of math and accounting for granted, but it was a fairly new development for the people of this time. I’ve included some links down below to articles that will get you started with further research for those of you who are interested in ancient Egyptian mathematics. Who knew Joseph would take us down this rabbit hole?

Nathaniel Johnson

 

https://answersingenesis.org/archaeology/ancient-egypt/a-correct-chronology/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pharaohs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_mathematics

 

 

 

To read or listen to today’s Bible passage – check out https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+41-42&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Genesis 43-45 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan