Light Dawns on the Dark Night of the Soul

Exodus 10-12

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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

Remember Jesus

Luke 22

Luke 22 19 NIV
If you’re Facebook friends with my dad, Joe Myers, the chances are very high that you will see a post on Christmas morning about our family’s traditional Christmas brunch – steak and eggs, cheesy hash brown casserole, English muffins, and homemade Orange Julius. It’s a meal that my parents started enjoying the first Christmas that they were married, waaaaaay back in 1972. And almost every December 25th since, it’s what we have on our plates. There was one year that our family drove from Georgia up to North Carolina on Christmas morning to visit my uncle and cousins and so we ended up eating at Waffle House and it just wasn’t the same…

In Luke 22 we read about another meal that holds significance for all of us. The Passover meal was prepared every year as a way to remember the Great Egyptian Escape. In Exodus 12, God had very specific instructions for the food that the Israelites were to eat and how it was to be prepared and served. And it is this meal that Jesus and his disciples are eating in Luke 22.
Only now, Jesus is adding the New Testament significance to this meal. Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Accepting this bread means we will never go spiritually hungry. And the wine for this meal represents the blood of Jesus poured out on the cross for the atonement of our sins. Accepting this drink means that we can have a right relationship with God because our sins have been paid for in full.
Jesus instructs his followers to prepare this meal regularly in order to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. And so that is what we do. We remember Jesus’ life. We remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. And we remember the promise that was made – that one day, we’ll sit at a table with Jesus and eat a meal. What a wonderful thing to look forward to.
Bethany Ligon

What Moses Teaches Us Today

Heb 11 26

Summary

Thanks for reading along this past week, and I really hope you have benefitted from this.  I know I have enjoyed studying and writing this past week. I just wanted to finish off with a quick summary.

 

The story of the Exodus is a story of a people who had been promised so much from God, but had forgotten him and taken on a culture and pantheon that was inherently sinful.  God then works through Moses to directly attack every sinful aspect of their culture and every false god that his people were following to show them beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that there are no gods before him.  As they are heading out of Egypt on their way to becoming their own nation with their own land God begins to form their culture around himself in order to help them to stay true to him.

 

So many aspects of the passover point the Israelites towards Jesus in the future and prepares their culture for his coming, but we know that when Jesus did come they did not accept him because they had walked away from the lessons they had learned under Moses.  Similarly Jesus’s message brought a massive change in culture to all those who followed him. People started to live changed lives and loved others truly instead of just following rules because they had to. That is the changed life that we are supposed to live.  Just as the Israelites had to sacrifice the lambs that the Egyptian culture worshiped we need to lay aside the idols in our culture that only bring sin into our lives. Maybe that is social media, or crass tv shows, or sleeping around, or any number of other things that are standard in our culture but can easily consume our lives and become idols.

 

Also just as Moses’ story and the Exodus points towards Christ, Jesus’ points us towards the Kingdom and his second coming.  So unlike the Israelites we need to remember what Jesus taught and live by his teachings so that we will be ready for his return.

 

Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3  4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

-Chris Mattison

Revelation 21-2,3

The Passover

exodus 12 13

I had touched very briefly yesterday on the plague of the firstborn and the passover ceremony which spared the lives of those who followed God.  Let’s look at that a bit more today.

 

To prepare the Israelites for the passover they were to have each family take a lamb and slaughter it at twilight and take some of the  blood and put it on the doorframes of their houses and then cook and eat the lamb that night with bitter herbs. They were to also take care of the lamp for a week before they slaughtered it.  This would not be an easy thing to do and the meal would not taste good. This was meant to show the pain and sorrow that sin causes and the blood that is required to wash away sin.

 

Slaughtering the lamb in Egypt would also have taken a lot of faith.  Animals were of great value back then, which is why so many of the Egyptians worshiped them, and most likely many of the Israelites did as well.   Animals were of even greater value as well because of all the plagues that had just wiped out the animals in Egypt. Earlier we had seen that they could not do any sacrifices in the land of Egypt because the Egyptians detested it.  Now they are doing just that. In order to do this the Israelites are sacrificing their material wealth, as well as turning their backs on the Egyptian gods. If they were not able to let go of the wealth or culture then they would have faced the judgment.  He goes on to say,

 

Exodus 12:12-14

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

 

The plague of the firstborn was to be the final blow to the Egyptian culture/gods, and with it God is also implementing a lasting holy day in their culture by which they will remember what God has done for them for all generations, and the seder passover dinner is practiced around the world to this day.  The problem with the Israelites in Egypt was that they forgot what God had promised them. God was not going to let them forget again so easily.

 

In the Old Testament there were many festivals and holy days and cultural things that God implemented in the Israelites in order to remind them of his work and power in their past.  Even with these they often forgot and wandered away from God. After Jesus we do not live under these laws and we do not have to follow these feasts and rituals, but we still need to make a permanent change in our lives every time that God acts in our lives.  We need to constantly remind ourselves of what God has done for us. The passover ceremony was designed to make people ask why they would do such a thing so that the Israelites could tell people the story of the Exodus. Similarly our stories of how God has changed our lives are our most powerful tool for spreading the Gospel.

-Chris Mattison

Hey, Listen Up!

II Chronicles 35-36

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Sunday, December 4

Have you ever wondered if God gets frustrated when people don’t listen to Him?  The people of Jerusalem had a great king while Josiah was ruler of Jerusalem but things quickly turned sour after his death.  Under King Josiah the people had experienced the re-instatement of the religious commemoration festivities of Passover.  The celebration was even mostly funded with animal sacrifices given by  Josiah and his officers on behalf of the laypeople.  We are told that such a tremendous Passover had not been celebrated like that in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet, and that no other Passover celebration was quite like the one that Josiah had with the Priests of God.  But then something tragic happens.  Josiah, who normally would have listened to God, and his messengers decides to not heed God’s warning and goes to war unnecessarily where he is wounded and dies.

This is where the story of the people of Jerusalem takes a dramatic, terrible turn for the worse.  Under their next two kings who are ungodly men the country goes into a spiritual downward spiral.  The people forget the goodness of God, their devotion to Him and refused to listen to the prophets such as Jeremiah that God would send to warn the people to turn from their wicked ways.   Again, and again they were warned but they continually mocked the messengers of God, thus  raising  the wrath of God until there was no remedy.  The people and their kings did not listen, so God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to overtake their beloved city and carry many of the people off into exile in the land of Babylon.  To make matters worse the Babylonians carried off the sacred vessels and treasures of God’s house to their own land, slew many of the people, burned the house of God, and tore down the protective wall around Jerusalem.  The people stayed exiled in Babylon, and the city of Jerusalem lay in ruins for 70 years before God brought about a change by stirring up within Cyrus King of Persia’s spirit that the people that had been taken captive in the previous conquests should be allowed to go back to their homeland and worship in their beloved city once again.

What caught my eye in this passage is that the people would not listen and mocked the messengers of God and scoffed at the prophets God sent.  Doesn’t that  sound like the society we live in today?

Many of us have friends who are unbelievers, or even friends who claim to be Christians but their life choices and their actions don’t seem to follow God’s standards.  Many of them are doing the same thing today by scoffing at the idea that there is a God who is in control of the Universe or mocking God by not following his standards instead choosing to do whatever makes them feel good.  People often make excuses why they are the exception to God’s rules.  Does God like this?   From what we have read, God doesn’t.   Scripture reminds us that we should not be deceived, God will not be mocked, people reap what they sow.  By sowing disobedience to God, in turn God removed his protection from the people of Jerusalem and allowed them to be overtaken by enemies.

Every action has a consequence, every choice has a consequence.  Choosing not to listen to God, and honor him  has its consequences as well.  The people of Jerusalem found that out the hard way.  If only they had just  listened to  God how differently things might have turned out!     Key thought:  Choose to hear when  God is speaking to you!

-Merry Peterson

 

A Little About The Writer:

Merry Peterson is an Associate Pastor at Freedom In Christ Church in Welland, Ontario, Canada.  She grew up in Canada and recently moved back there after  pastoring a church in Wenatchee, Washington for 15 years.  She is a graduate of Atlanta Bible College, and Clayton State University.  She enjoys hiking, baking, reading, and often has pet goldfish.  Merry has enjoyed being at FUEL as a camper and as part of the staff. 

 

 

God’s Grace

2 Chronicles 30-32

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Friday, December 2

Just a couple quick things to notice in these readings. One is that our readings this week have covered more than 200 years of Israel’s history. To put it in context of United States history, George Washington would have been president when this week started and most of you will be retired by the end of tomorrow’s reading. Just imagine how much has happened that we know nothing about. If you remember your readings in 1 and 2 Kings, you’ll notice differences in the story. I was surprised that this account does not include the sun moving backwards as a sign of  Hezekiah’s healing, nor does it give as dramatic an account of the defeat of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.

I want to focus now on 2 Chronicles 30:13-22. The back story is that Hezekiah is determined to celebrate the Passover like it had not been done since the time of Solomon. He is not content to celebrate only with those loyal to David in Judah, but has reached out to the northern tribes, many of whom have already been defeated and carried away captive by the Assyrians. Many have refused to come, but Judah graciously welcomes those who do.

Notice verses 18-20. “For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good LORD pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the LORD the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people.”

We have noticed throughout our readings that God gave strict instructions as to how his feasts were to be celebrated. Yet here we see grace, first in inviting those who were outside the faithful of Judah to celebrate the feast, and then in pardoning their mistakes in celebrating the feast. God understands human weakness.

We might imagine a person visiting our church who does not know how to behave in church. Perhaps she doesn’t know how to dress, perhaps he uses language that many would consider inappropriate. They don’t know the words to the songs, don’t know when to stand, when to sing, when to be quiet, what communion is about. Can we be glad they are with us, rather than focusing on their mess ups? How can we gracefully communicate that we are glad they are with us, welcoming them as Christ welcomes us?

-Greg Demmitt

Passover (Exodus 11-13)

At long last, the tenth plague comes.  Now, God will finish pouring out his wrath on this genocidal nation.  Although each of the nine plagues decimated and humiliated specific Egyptian gods, this last plague was against all of the gods.  This is how God explains it:

Exodus 12.12
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am Yahweh.

I love how he ends this with “I am Yahweh.”  In other words, Egypt has it’s gods, but I am Yahweh and they are completely impotent to protect what is most precious to you, your firstborn sons.  This is God’s last act of war against Egypt and it will guarantee that they let his people go.  Even so, he will guard his own people so that not even “a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that Yahweh makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 11.7).  Even so, God is not going to make his protection automatic.  He wants his people to exercise faith by performing certain ceremonial actions.  He instructs them to kill an unblemished lamb and paint the blood on the door frame, roast it, and eat it that night.  These simple acts will prevent the destroyer from entering into the house to kill the firstborn.

Those who followed this command marked themselves out as the true people of God and those who ignored it suffered the consequences.  At midnight God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt from Pharaoh’s house to the firstborn captive in the dungeon as well as all the firstborn of the livestock (Exodus 12.29).  A great cry arose in Egypt because every house had someone dead in it.  Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to take his people and his herds and go to serve Yahweh.  The Egyptians urgently sent the Hebrews out of the land saying, “We shall all be dead” (Exodus 12.33).  This one moment gets celebrated year after year, decade after decade, century after century, and millennium after millennium by Israel in their Passover dinner.  The question for you today is whether you have marked yourself out by the blood of the lamb so that you will be saved on judgment day?