That You Might Know

32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:32-40 ESV

Ever since the day God had appeared to Abraham and called him to leave his ancestral homeland and travel to the land of Canaan, God has been revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham. Time and time again, the invisible God made Himself known in miraculous ways. It was while Abraham was in Haran, that God spoke audibly to him and said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2 ESV).

And while Abraham was never given the privilege of seeing God with his own eyes, he would regularly hear God’s voice and even receive visions from the Almighty. And through it all, Abraham was learning to trust in God’s invisible, yet unmistakable presence and power. His repeated encounters with God ended up solidifying his trust in and reliance upon God. So much so, that when God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.…So shall your offspring be,” that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV).

Abraham believed God, even though his wife was barren and the two of them were  well-advanced in years. He believed God because he had seen God – not with his eyes, but as he watched God work in and around his life in countless, miraculous ways. And the same would be true for Isaac and Jacob. These men would also have personal encounters with the invisible God. They would never look upon Him with their eyes, but they would experience His presence and power as God manifested Himself in a variety of miraculous and inexplicable ways.

This pattern of God revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham would continue throughout the years. And God would eventually show up in the land of Midian, in the form of a burning bush, in order to issue His call to Moses to deliver the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This amazing scene is recorded for us in the book of Exodus.

Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:2-6 NLT

This would be the first of many extraordinary encounters between Moses and God. And each of them were intended to prove the reality and reliability of God. Moses was learning the invaluable lesson that, while God could not be seen, He could be known.

And when God informed Moses of His plan to release the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He revealed one of the important outcomes:

When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 7:5 NLT

The ten plagues that God would command Moses to bring upon the people of Egypt would eventually leave them fully convinced that the god of the Israelites was not a figment of their corporate imagination. He was real and very powerful. And He was greater than every one of the false gods they worshiped.

But from the day the Israelites had walked out of Egypt and crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground, God had been revealing Himself in countless ways. He had been demonstrating His power and presence, appearing in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had shown up on Mount Sinai, accompanied by smoke, fire, thunder, and lightning. And Moses reminded the people of Israel of their unique status as the only nation privileged to experience God’s presence in such spectacular fashion.

“Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes.” – Deuteronomy 4:33-34 NLT

And Moses made it painfully clear why God had chosen to reveal Himself to His chosen people.

“He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:35 NLT

These miraculous displays of His power were intended to convince the people of Israel that their God was real and fully reliable. He may have been unseen, but He was far from nonexistent. They didn’t need an idol or some kind of man-made representation of God to prove that He existed. He had proven His reality “by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts.”

By this time in their faith journey, the people of Israel should have had more than enough proof that their God was real and reliable. He had proven Himself so, time and time again. And yet, Moses felt compelled to tell them, “So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The Lord is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:37 NLT).

As they prepared to enter the land of Canaan, they needed to be convinced of God’s pervasive presence and power. The days ahead were going to be filled with countless obstacles. The enemies in the land were real and formidable. The temptations to doubt God’s presence and question His power were going to be constant. So, they were going to have to place their faith in their invisible, but highly powerful God.

The author of Hebrews, discussing the faith of the Hebrew patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, wrote: “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT).

One of the greatest dangers the Israelites faced as they prepared to enter the land of Canaan was not the enemy forces that occupied the land. It was the temptation to lose faith in God. Moses knew that the first time the Israelites encountered a circumstance where the odds were stacked against them, they would assume that God was not with them. As soon as they found themselves in a situation that appeared hopeless, they would be tempted to see themselves as helpless and their God as powerless.

But they had no reason to doubt God. He had proven Himself to be trustworthy. He had displayed His power in countless ways. And all God asked in return was that they believe He exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him and faithfully serve Him. Which is why Moses challenged them:

“If you obey all the decrees and commands I am giving you today, all will be well with you and your children. I am giving you these instructions so you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:40 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Advertisements

He Has Done Great Things.

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:1-6 ESV

Isaiah has been talking about a future period of time, one he refers to as “that day.” This is a prophetic designation, describing a day in the future when God would accomplish great things on behalf of His chosen people, the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah. Out of the once-great tree of the Davidic dynasty, relegated to a stump of its former glory because of the judgments of God, will come a shoot. That seemingly insignificant byproduct of the “root of Jesse” will be Jesus, the Messiah. He will appear on the scene, sent by God the Father, to be born of a virgin, and into the house of David. He will be the legal heir to David’s throne and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise made to David.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

There is a certain sense in which Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He took on human flesh in His incarnation. But when Jesus came the first time, while He was born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2), He was not recognized or accepted as king by His own people.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

They rejected Him as their king. In fact, they demanded that the Romans crucify Him, accusing Him of blasphemy for His claims to be the Son of God. When Pilate had attempted to release Jesus to the Jews, seeing no fault in Him worthy of death, he had said, “Look, here is your king!” (John 19:14 NLT). But the people scoffed at the idea of Jesus being their king.

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT

So, when Isaiah announces the arrival of the Messiah or king of Israel, he is talking about another event that has yet to happen. Jesus will appear a second time, at the end of the age, and He will set up His kingdom on earth. He will rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And He will restore the people of Israel to power and prominence. Isaiah describes exactly what He will do.

He will…assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth.
– Isaiah 11:12 NLT

All of this will happen “in that day.” It is a day that lies in the future, as yet unfulfilled. But it will be. And in that day, the people of Israel and Judah will recognize the hand of God. They will know that He has shown them mercy and grace.

In that day you will sing:
    “I will praise you, O Lord!
You were angry with me, but not any more.
    Now you comfort me.” – Isaiah 12:1 NLT

It will be a day of rejoicing and gladness because they will recognize that God has redeemed and restored them. Not because of them, but in spite of them. They will know what it is like to trust God fully. They will experience His peace and rest in His protection. And Isaiah tells his audience that, when the day comes, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3 ESV). 

It’s impossible to read this statement and not recall another time in the lives of the people of Israel when water played a significant role in their relationship with God. It’s recorded in the book of Exodus. They had escaped captivity in Egypt and were on their way to the land of promise, when the arrived at a place called Rephidim. The only problem was, there was no water there. “So the people contended with Moses, and they said, ‘Give us water to drink!’” (Exodus 17:2 NLT). The text describes them as being “very thirsty” and they let Moses know about it.

“Why in the world did you bring us up out of Egypt—to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” – Exodus 17:3 NLT

Moses, sensing that the people were ready to stone him, feared for his life. But God gave Moses a solution.

“Go over before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 NLT

God was going to be there. He would be on top of the very rock Moses was commanded to strike. And from that rock would flow life-giving water. Paul would later describe that rock as Jesus Himself.

All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 NLT

And Jesus, the source of that physical water, would also be the sole source of spiritual refreshment. In His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told her:

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:13-14 NLT

Isaiah predicts a day when the people of Israel will enjoy the water of life – Jesus Himself. Not only will they enjoy salvation in the form of their restoration to the land, but they will experience a renewal of their hearts.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God is going to do something for the people of Israel that is far greater than supplying them with clean drinking water. It will be far more valuable than their return to the land. It will be of much greater significance than their restoration to a place of prominence on the world scene. They will have new hearts and a new capacity to serve God faithfully. They will be obedient. They will trust Him fully. No more false gods. No more falling away in apathy and apostasy. In that day, they will be His people and He will be their God.

And in that day, they will give God all the glory, because it will all be His doing.

“Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things.
    Make known his praise around the world.
Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy!
    For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.” – Isaiah 12:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Matchless Grace of God.

1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.

“‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’” Joshua 24:1-13 ESV

The last chapter revealed that “Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (Joshua 23:1 ESV). He knew his days were numbered and his time for leading the people of Israel was coming to an end. So, in this closing chapter of the book of Joshua, we see him attempting to prepare them for the next phase of their spiritual and physical journey with God. And he chose to prepare them for the future by looking at the past. Joshua gathered all the tribes together at Shechem. This was an important location that held significant memories for the Israelites. It was at Shechem that Abraham had built an altar to God, in response to the promise made to him by God: “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). At that point in time, Abraham had no children, a barren wife, and the land was filled with Canaanites. But it was a promise made to him by God and Abraham took God at His word. 

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. – Genesis 15:6 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, Joshua and the offspring of Abraham stood on the very same spot where Abraham had built his altar to God. It was at this strategic location that Joshua chose to give the people a brief, but vital history lesson. But from the outset, he let them know that this was actually a message from Yahweh, prefacing his remarks, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2 ESV). This was a message from God Himself, reminding His people of the role He had played in their founding as a nation. And the entire timeline concerning God’s interactions with the nation of Israel is filled with exampled of His unmerited grace and favor. He began with the call of Abraham, the son of Terah, an idolatrous pagan living beyond the Euphrates River in the land of Ur. God had chosen Abraham, not the other way around. God, in His grace and according to His sovereign will, had picked Abraham out of all the other inhabitants on the earth at the time. Notice that God mentions Nahor, the brother of Abraham, but that he was not the one selected. God’s choice was Abraham, and in spite of his idolatrous background. God had plans for Abraham, and those plans included a long and arduous journey to the land of Canaan. It was in Canaan that God provided Abraham with a son, Isaac. And, once again, this abbreviated version of the story stressed God’s matchless grace. It fails to mention Abraham’s old age and Sarah’s barrenness. It doesn’t point out their failure to trust God and their attempts to bring about His promise through human means. Abraham had tried to convince God to accept his manservant, Eliezer, as his heir. Sarah had tried to help God out by convincing Abraham to have a child by her maidservant, Hagar. But God had something far greater in mind. He was the God of the impossible and His promise was not going to be fulfilled through human cunning and cleverness. Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac, another example of God’s grace. And from this one son came Jacob and Esau, from whom would come the nations of Israel and Edom. And while the Edomites would settle in the land of Seir, it was God’s sovereign will that the Israelites end up in Egypt, just as God had promised to Abraham.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 14:13 ESV

Through a series of God-ordained events, Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, ended up in Egypt where he became the second-highest ranking official in the land. And a famine in the land of Canaan forced his father and brothers to turn to Egypt for aid, reuniting the family and fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Jacob would remain in Egypt for 400 years, until God sent Moses to set them free from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh. Once again, a picture of God’s grace, because they had long ago stopped worshiping Him as God. During their four-century stay in Egypt they had begun to worship the false gods of Egypt. But God graciously delivered them, using a series of plagues to prove to them that He was the one and only God. God had told Moses:

6 “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” – Exodus 6:6-7 ESV

And their exodus from Egypt had culminated with God’s gracious deliverance of the people of Israel from certain death at banks of the Red Sea. They had walked out of Egypt, only to find themselves standing at the shore of the sea with the armies of Pharaoh bearing down on them. And the people saw their situation as hopeless.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” – Exodus 14:11-12 ESV

But God had graciously delivered them that day. And He had led them through the wilderness. He had taken to the land of Canaan. He had provided them with victories over their enemies. He had defeated Balak, thwarted the plans of Balaam, handed over the city of Jericho, and given them possession of the land, just as He had promised to do nearly half a century earlier. Over and over again, God stressed His role in their corporate story.

I took… (vs 3)

I led… (vs 3)

I made… (vs 4)

I gave… (vs 4, 8, 11, 13)

I sent… (vs 5, 12)

I plagued… (vs 5)

I did… (vs 5)

I brought… (vs 5, 6)

I destroyed… (vs 8)

I delivered… (vs 10)

And God summarized it all with the statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13 ESV). From the moment God had called Abraham to the day they had begun to occupy the land and enjoy the fruits it provided, God had been actively, graciously working on their behalf. Their entire history had been His story. He had done it all. From beginning to end. And it had all been an act of grace of God’s part – totally undeserved and unmerited. And God had done it all so that He might fulfill His divine plan to send His Son as the Savior of the world. The apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Galatia.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God had preordained that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. God’s plan was far greater in scope than just the occupation of a land somewhere in the Middle East by a particular people group. It was about the redemption of mankind and the future restoration of His creation. It was about the ultimate defeat of sin and death, not just the conquest of Canaan. Each and every part of Israel’s story was an expression of God’s grace and mercy, as He orchestrated His plan for the salvation of mankind. God was reminding His people that the many blessings they enjoyed were the result of His grace, not their inherent goodness or greatness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Revisionist History.

Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?”

Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who had given him this answer: “As for the offerings that you offered in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them? Did it not come into his mind? The Lord could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day. It is because you made offerings and because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey the voice of the Lord or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his testimonies that this disaster has happened to you, as at this day.” Jeremiah 44:15-23 ESV

This passage provides a remarkable glimpse into the mindset of an individual whose heart is set on sin. When a lifestyle of sin or rebellion against God becomes habitual, the individual involved in that sin will do everything he or she can to justify and rationalize their behavior. The truth is, they enjoy their sin and want to keep on doing it. They have grown accustomed to their disobedient lifestyle and any attempt by anyone, including God, to stop them will be met by stiff resistance, even anger. If they feel their sin, which they love to commit, is threatened in any way, they will become defensive and combative. And that’s exactly what we see in these verses.

The remnant of the people of Judah, led by Johanan, had fled to Egypt in order to escape the Babylonian occupation of their land. But they did so against the command of God. They had been warned not to go to Egypt, but had done so anyway, and they took Jeremiah with them by force. And now, after they had settled into their new lives in Egypt, Jeremiah had given them a word from God:

“I will take this remnant of Judah—those who were determined to come here and live in Egypt—and I will consume them. They will fall here in Egypt, killed by war and famine. All will die, from the least to the greatest.” – Jeremiah 44:12 NLT

This dire warning from God didn’t produce its intended effect. Rather than fear God and repent of their sins against Him, they responded with blame and indignation. They justified their actions and told God’s spokesman, the prophet Jeremiah, that they were not going to listen to his words any longer.

“We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want.” – Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT

And they gave him their reasons why.

“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles!” – Jeremiah 44:17 NLT

As far as they were concerned, it was going to be business as usual. When they served their false gods everything had gone well for them, or so they claimed. Their memories, clouded by the fog of time and the mist of sin, were less-than-accurate in their portrayal of how things had been, but that was going to be their justification. It’s all very similar to the story of their ancestors as they made their way from Egypt to the promised land. God had fed them manna and provided them with water from a rock. But the day came when they were dissatisfied with God’s provision and took their complaint to Moses.

“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-6 ESV

They had foggy memories of how things had been back in Egypt. They recalled their former days of slavery with fondness and saw their current circumstances under God direction as burdensome and unpleasant. They preferred captivity to freedom. They wanted their old way of life back. And the remnant of Jews who had fled to Egypt were expressing the same sentiment. They preferred their sin in Egypt over obedience to God in Judah. And they gave the credit for any joy or happiness they had enjoyed back in Judah to their false gods, not Yahweh. Once again, their sin-soaked memories were a bit vague on the actual details of how things had gone when they were still in Judah. They seem to recall a time when they had given up their false gods.

“But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her with liquid offerings, we have been in great trouble and have been dying from war and famine.” – Jeremiah 44:18 NLT

But even during the days of King Josiah, the last king who tried to bring spiritual reform to Judah, the people had not fully given up their false gods. Their efforts at reform and repentance had been nothing more than window dressing. All along, they had continued to worship and offer up sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven and all their other idols. What they failed to remember was that their “dying from war and famine” had been God’s punishment on them for NOT turning from their false gods. It was their disobedience and unfaithfulness that had gotten them in trouble in the first place, and now they were doing it again. And they were adamant about it, boldly claiming, “We will do whatever we want.

But Jeremiah wasn’t going to let them play fast and loose with the facts. He wasn’t going to allow them to use their revisionist history to distort the reality of what had happened. And he let them know that God had always known that their so-called efforts at reform had always been a sham and a show.

“Do you think the Lord did not know that you and your ancestors, your kings and officials, and all the people were burning incense to idols in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? – Jeremiah 44:21 NLT

Was God blind? Had He not seen what was going on behind closed doors? Was He unaware of what they had been doing in secret while they had been feigning allegiance to Him? Jeremiah let them know that their problems were the result of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh, not their unfaithfulness to their false gods. They had never really given up their idolatry. Had they been willing to do so and had they turned back to God in true repentance, He would have spared them from judgment and restored them to a right relationship with Himself. But Jeremiah doesn’t pull any punches when he tells the people unvarnished truth about their past unfaithfulness and present predicament.

“It was because the Lord could no longer bear all the disgusting things you were doing that he made your land an object of cursing—a desolate ruin without inhabitants—as it is today.” – Jeremiah 44:22 NLT

The state of affairs back in Judah was God’s doing, not the work of the Queen of Heaven or any other false god. They were under God’s judgment and not that of some other non-existent deity. But the truth is, the people of Judah were simply trying to justify their sin and rationale their disobedience to God. They didn’t want to be led by Him. They didn’t want to live according to His rules and obey His commands. They wanted to worship gods they had created on their own. But it was their stubborn demand for autonomy and their refusal to willingly submit to the leadership of God in their lives that had brought all the pain and suffering on them. So, they had no one to blame but themselves.

“All these terrible things happened to you because you have burned incense to idols and sinned against the Lord. You have refused to obey him and have not followed his instructions, his decrees, and his laws.” – Jeremiah 44:23 NLT

They could attempt to revise history, but the facts would remain unchanged. Their sin was still worthy of judgment. Their rebellion against God was still deserving of His punishment. No amount of justification or rationalization was going to change their status before God. They were guilty. God was holy.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Will Quietly Wait.

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
    and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
    and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light;
    rays flashed from his hand;
    and there he veiled his power.
Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels.
He stood and measured the earth;
    he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
    the everlasting hills sank low.
    His were the everlasting ways.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
    the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
    rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.

I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk 3:1-16 ESV

How many times has your response to hearing from God been to sing? That what Habakkuk did. When the prophet heard that God’s plan included the use of the Babylonians to punish the people of Judah for their sins against Him, but that He would also bring destruction on Babylon, Habakkuk sang. Or at least he wrote words that were later turned into a psalm of praise. Even though Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians were going to be God’s chosen instrument of judgment against the people of Judah, he rejoiced in the fact that God was merciful and had no plans to do away with His people – even though they deserved it.

Habakkuk opens up his prayer with an acknowledgement of God’s greatness. He admits that he has heard about the greatness of God. As a young boy growing up in a Hebrew home, he would have heard the stories of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. He would have known well the story of the Israelites miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and their many God-ordained victories that led to their occupation of the Promised Land. Habakkuk would have been well-verses in the history of the people of Israel and God’s sovereign work among them. So, knowing what he knew about God in the past, he appeals to God to so the same thing in the present.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by.
And in your anger,
    remember your mercy. – Habakkkuk 3:2b NLT

Habakkuk knew that God was angry with the sins of the people of Judah. That was the whole reason He was bringing the Babylonians against them. He was doing to them what He had done to the northern kingdom of Israel. He had punished them for the wickedness and rebellion by bringing the Assyrians against them. Because of their worship of idols and stubborn rejection of Him as their God, He allowed them to fall at the hands of their enemy and be taken into captivity. And now, God had revealed to Habakkuk that He was going to do the same thing to Judah, but this time, using the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment. But Habakkuk pleads for mercy. He knew God was just in what He was going to do, but appealed to His grace and mercy, asking Him to deliver His people, just as He had done in the past.

The next thing Habakkuk does is describe what it must have been like when God delivered the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. He says, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran” (Habakkuk 3:3 ESV). Teman was located in Edom and Mount Paran was nearby. They were east of Egypt and Habakkuk describes God as having come from that direction as He approached His people in order to deliver them. Habakkuk describes God as having a brightness like light. This is most likely a reference to God’s shekinah glory. This Hebrew word was used to describe God’s visible presence as displayed in a form of light or other natural manifestation. When the people left Egypt, they were led by God, who revealed Himself to them in a tangible form that was to give them confidence and courage.

And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:20-22 ESV

Habakkuk also recalls what it must have been like when God descended upon Mount Sinai in order to give His people the law.

When he stops, the earth shakes.
    When he looks, the nations tremble.
He shatters the everlasting mountains
    and levels the eternal hills.
    He is the Eternal One! – Habakkuk 3:6 NLT

God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel in an unforgettable fashion. His glory had been literally earth-shaking and fear-inducing.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. – Exodus 24:17 NLT

Habakkuk also recalls God’s power as displayed in the ten plagues that He used against the people of Egypt, forcing them to let the people of Israel go.

Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels. – Habakkuk 3:5 ESV

God is all powerful. His majesty and might are incomparable. He controls the heavens and His very presence shakes the earth. Egypt was no match for Him. And Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians would also find themselves unequal to the task of trying to stand against God.

Those nations that witnessed the Israelites’ divinely ordained departure from Egypt would have been amazed at what they witnessed. The Israelites, nothing more than slaves, had somehow defeated one of the world’s greatest powers and walked out of Egypt without firing an arrow or throwing a single spear. It had been a divine deliverance, complete with the parting of the Red Sea. This miraculous event, as well as the God’s of the waters of the Nile into blood, are both referenced here by Habakkuk.

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea? – Habakkuk 3:8 ESV

This rhetorical question was Habakkuk’s way of stating that God’s anger was directed against those two bodies of water, but they were simply instruments or weapons in His hands. He used them to accomplish His will, much like a soldier uses his sword or spear. Habakkuk describes God in all His might and majesty, using metaphors that provide the reader with a sense of God’s awe and power. The mountains shake. The sun and moon stand still. All nature stands in awe of God. The entire created order is nothing compared to the greatness and grandeur of God.

All of this imagery is Habakkuk’s feeble attempt to describe the power and sovereignty of God. And it causes him to fear and tremble. But he says, “I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us” (Habakkuk 3:16 NLT). Habakkuk was putting His faith in the God of the past and trusting Him to be the God of the future. He was placing His faith in God’s consistency of character and proven track record of faithfulness. God had proven Himself powerful enough. God had repeatedly shown Himself more than faithful enough. And that was enough for Habakkuk to place his hope and trust in God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Invisible God.

Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. – Esther 3:12-15 ESV

What began as one man’s act of civil disobedience has suddenly escalated into a royal edict officially sanctioning genocide. Through the casting of lots, a date had been selected on which the total annihilation of the Jewish people would take place. The fateful day was  less than a year away, on the 13th day of the month of Adar. Now it was just a matter of letting the rest of the kingdom know what Haman and the king had determined to do to the Mordecai and every other Jew who lived in the lands of the Persians – “all Jews—young and old, including women and children—must be killed, slaughtered, and annihilated on a single day” (Esther 3:13 NLT). This devastating news was to be disseminated via mail. Couriers carried the king’s decree to the far reaches of the kingdom, providing the cold-hearteds detail in clinical-like language. And as a somewhat sadistic form of incentive, the news was relayed that “The property of the Jews would be given to those who killed them” (Esther 3:13b NLT).

This was not going to be a case of the royal army waging war on the Jews. King Ahasuerus was not sending his troops to do this dirty deed. He was assigning the job to all the people in the land. This was going to be an empire-wide, community-based affair. Everyone was expected to do their part. And just so there was no confusion as to what the expected outcome was to be, the edict carried very precise terms. They were expected to “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate ” all the Jews. Isn’t it interesting to note that this was basically the same instructions that had been given to King Saul of Israel when God told him to wipe out the Amalakites.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

Saul had been clear instructions as to what to do, but he failed to follow through on God’s command. Now, years later, the tables were turned and Haman, an Amalakite, was ordering the complete destruction of the Jews – every man, woman, and child. Saul’s failure to obey was going to come back and haunt the Israelites, in a major way. In a single day, the entire Hebrew population of Persia was to be wiped out and their goods plundered. It was to be an empire-wide, mass extinction of an entire people group. All because one man had his pride hurt.

And while the couriers carried this dark news throughout the realm, Haman and the king “sat down to drink.” They celebrated their joint accomplishment with a drink or two, and most likely toasted their lightning-like response to this threat to the kingdom. The amazing thing is that the date set for this slaughter to take place was nearly a year away. Why was it so necessary to get the news out so quickly? Why was Haman so driven to have this edict disseminated in record time? It would appear that he simply wanted to make Mordecai and the Jews discover the news as soon as possible in order to prolong their agony and force them to live with a sense of dread for as long as he could. We are told that as news of the king’s edict spread, it threw the city of Susa into a state of confusion. People couldn’t believe what they were hearing. The Jews had not been a problem. What was prompting the king to issue a decree of this magnitude and why were they being required to play a part in the murder of innocent men, women and children?

In verse 12, we read, “the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month (NIssan), and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written.” This is significant because the Jews were to begin their celebration of Passover on the 15th day of Nissan. So just two days prior to their annual festival of Passover, the Jews were to receive the devastating news that they were to be wiped out. The irony of this would not have gone unnoticed. Passover was a celebration of God’s miraculous protection of the people of Israel when the death angel passed over the homes of all those who had sprinkled the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their homes (Exodus 12:7). As part of the Passover celebration, they would have selected their own lamb on the 10th day of Nissan, the very same day that Haman had cast lots to determine a day for the mass slaughter of the Jews.

The timing of all of this is far from coincidental. There is something far greater going on behind the scenes. If you look carefully you can begin to see the puzzle pieces coming together and forming an increasingly clearer image. Esther’s rise to prominence. Haman’s promotion. Mordecai’s place at the gate of the king’s palace. His discovery of the plot to kill the king. And his refusal to bow down to Haman. The seemingly random alignment of the dates. And on top of all that, the fact that he was a Jew and Haman was an Amalakite. These are not mere cases of coincidence. They are subtle insights into God’s invisible, yet undeniable role in the affairs of men. While Haman and the king celebrated, the citizens of Susa wrestled with confusion and anxiety. And the Jews were left to wonder where their God had gone. Yet the hidden story is that God was far from absent. As in the days of Moses and the Exodus, God was about to rescue His people. Just when everything looked hopeless, God was going to show himself fully in control and completely worthy of His people’s trust.

The Danger of Disobedience.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. – Esther 3:1-6 ESV

Mordecai has just foiled an assassination plot and helped save the life of the king. And while Mordecai’s efforts earned him a place in the official chronicles of the king, that was all the recognition he received. And yet, another individual, new to our story, was about to receive a huge promotion that would create a major conflict for Mordecai and Esther. The man’s name is Haman and the important, but often neglected part of the story is his heritage. He is an Agagite. Like Esther and Mordecai, he is not a native Persian. He is an outsider who has made his way to the Persian empire, most likely as the result of their conquest of his land. What is significant is that Haman is an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, the Amalakite. The Amalakites carried out an unprovoked attack on the Israelites during their days in the wilderness. Joshua and the people of Israel defeated them in battle and God pronounced a curse on the Amalakies. “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14 ESV).

Years later, long after Israel had settled in the land of Canaan and Saul had become their king, God sent word to King Saul through Samuel, the prophet. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV). Saul did as the Lord had commanded him, but he did not obey fully.

And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:7-9 ESV

Saul had spared King Agag and kept the best of the spoil, disobeying the direct orders of God. And he would be removed as the king of Israel for his disobedience. What makes all of this so important to the story of Esther is that she and Mordecai are both descendants of Saul and Haman, the newly promoted, second-highest official in the land, is a direct descendant of Agag. This long-standing conflict was about to be relived, all because one man refused to do what God had called him to do. His one act of disobedience and compromise was going to have long-term implications.

And the story makes it clear that Mordecai was well aware of Haman’s heritage, because it tells us “all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage” (Esther 3:2 ESV). Mordecai could not bring himself to pay homage to an enemy of his people. And when the king’s servants asked him why he was taking such a huge risk by not bowing down to Haman as the king had commanded, he simply informed them that he was a Jew. This news is reported to the king. It is interesting to note that when two officials of the king had plotted to assassinate him, it was Mordecai who made the news known to the king. Now, two officials are reporting Mordecai’s insubordination to Haman, unknowingly placing him in a very dangerous situation.

When Haman finds out about Mordecai’s refusal to bow down before him, his reaction is swift and over-the-top. Rather than take out his anger on Mordecai, he determines to destroy each and every Jew in the kingdom of the Persians. The long-standing hatred between the Amalakites and the Hebrews rises to the surface once more. And King Saul’s refusal to obey the command of God would come back to haunt the Jewish people. Haman would use his newfound power to not only settle a personal score between himself and Mordecai, but to wipe out all memory of the Jews from the land of the Persians. What is hiding just under the surface of this story is the role that disobedience plays in our lives. The whole reason Mordecai and Esther are even living in Persia is because of the disobedience of the people of Judah. They had refused to listen to the prophets of God who had been sent by God to call them to repentance for their unfaithfulness and disobedience, and to warn them about their coming destruction. But they had refused to listen to God’ warnings and were ultimately defeated by the Babylonians and taken captive. Likewise, the whole reason Haman even existed was because King Saul had refused to obey the word of God and completely destroy the Amalakites from the face of the earth. Haman was nothing more than the residual effect of Saul’s disobedience. Failure to do the will of God always has ramifications. Disobedience to God always has dire consequences. And Mordecai and Esther were going to learn a first-hand lesson in just how how dangerous disobedience could be.

Waiting On God In Faith.

By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27 ESV

Once again, we have an apparent contradiction between the Exodus account of the life of Moses and that of the author of Hebrews. Exodus tells us that when Moses became aware that news of his murder of the Egyptian had gotten out, he became afraid. “Then Moses was afraid, and thought, ‘Surely the thing is known’” (Exodus 2:14 ESV). Then it goes on to say that when Pharaoh heard about it,  he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV). But the Hebrews account says, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.” Which is it? Was Moses afraid or not? Did he flee or not? The author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us insight into just what was going on. Yes, Moses afraid, but the context tells us that his fear was based on his awareness that news of the murder had spread. His little secret was out. By the time Pharaoh heard about it, Moses had had time to think about it and to reflect on what he should do. According to Hebrews, he had already made plans to go to Midian, not out of fear, but out of faith. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “flee” can mean “to hasten” or “to put to flight.” The Exodus passage can make it sound like Moses fled for his life out of fear of Pharaoh. But when you combine the two passages, it makes better sense that Moses was put to flight by Pharaoh. We almost immediately think that Moses was fearing for his life. He ran because he was fearful that Pharaoh was going to kill him. But think about what Hebrews 11:24-25 says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Moses had already made the decision to extricate himself from Pharaoh’s household. But as the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh, the likelihood that he would be put to death for murder was probably slim to none. What Moses feared was having to go back to his life in the royal palace with its “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV). Again, we read that Moses left Egypt because, “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV).

So it was “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Hebrews 11:27a ESV). Moses didn’t leave Egypt because of Pharaoh, but because of God. “He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27b NLT). Moses headed to Midian, not out of fear for his life, but out of faith in God. He somehow knew that God was going to fulfill His promise to His people and restore them to the land. He didn’t know how yet. He didn’t know when. But he believed it was just a matter of time and he was content to go to Midian and persevere until that time came. Little did Moses know that it would be 40 years before God acted. And little did Moses know that when God did decide to act, He would choose to do so through Moses.

The day would come when God deemed it time to redeem His people. Exodus tells us, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV). God knew. And He knew where Moses was. He knew what Moses had been doing. The flight of Moses had been part of God’s plan. Just as Moses had been kept alive in the basket made of bulrushes, Moses had been protected in Midian, removed from the effects of the fleeting pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt. During his 40 years in Midian, Moses had given up his quest to be the savior of the people of Israel. He still believed in God’s promise to redeem His people, but he had long ago given up the idea that he might play a role. But God had other plans. He was going to use Moses, but in a way that Moses would find surprising and a bit scary. Hebrews says that Moses “kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” During his time in Midian, he kept trusting in God. Remember how the author describe faith in verses 1: “Not faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Moses had never seen God and yet he “kept his eyes” on Him. He kept believing in the reality of Him who he could not see and the promises he had yet to see fulfilled. According to Hebrews 11:6, faith is required to please God and whoever would want to draw near to God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

It would be safe to say that Moses sought God during his time in Midian, and the day would come when God revealed Himself to Moses.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” – Exodus 3:1-4 ESV

Moses had a direct encounter with the unseen God. He came face to face with Yahweh. And it would be a life-changing moment. Forty years after leaving Egypt, he would be returning, not as the grandson of Pharaoh, but as the representative of God. By faith he had left Egypt and now he was going to be returning the same way – trusting in the promises of God Almighty. To be directed by God requires faith in God. We must believe that He is at work in our lives in ways that we cannot see or even understand. When Moses left Egypt, he left everything behind.  He was forced to begin a new life. But his new circumstances would prove to little more than a temporary pause in the plan of God. God was watching and waiting, preparing to implement His divine redemptive plan at just the right time and using just the right person for the job: Moses.

 

Faith Down To His Bones.

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. – Hebrews 11:22 ESV

Ever since Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, he had spent the majority of his life living in the land of Egypt. He had spent the early portion of his time there going through periods of blessing followed by times of adversity. He would experience both feast and famine, success and failure, but God was always with him. Eventually he would become the second most powerful figure in Egypt, a remarkable turn of events that was not lost on Joseph. He told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). Joseph saw the sovereign hand of God directing his life and accomplishing a far greater and grander purpose than his brothers could have ever imagined when they sold him into slavery all those years ago. Joseph’s incredible and meteoric ascension to the upper echelons of Egyptian power was the work of God. It had all been part of God’s divine plan for fulfilling His promise to Abraham

You have to go all the way back to Genesis 15 to see how all of this fits into God’s grand scheme. Abraham had just finished explaining to God that His promise to make of Abraham a great nation had some serious flaws. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continuea childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (Genesis 15:2-3 ESV). But God attempted to calm Abraham’s fears by taking him outside and telling him, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). God reaffirmed His promise to give Abraham the land and He confirmed it by a covenant in blood. Then God told Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14 ESV).

Now fast-forward to a scene taking place in the land of Egypt. The descendants of Abraham, through his grandson, Jacob, are living in the land of Egypt. They had sought refuge there when a devastating famine had made the land of Canaan virtually uninhabitable. Because of Joseph’s influence with the Pharaoh, he was able to have land allocated to his brothers and their families and provide them with jobs caring for the herds that belonged to Pharaoh. But eventually, Joseph grew old and realized that he was going to die in the land of Egypt.

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

Notice what Joseph said. He told his brothers that they were going to return to the land. He was confident that God was going to accomplish exactly what He had promised to do. They would live in the land of Egypt for 400 years, but then God would redeem them from slavery and return them to their land, “with great possessions.” At this point in the story, the people of Israel are not enslaved. They are living in Egypt as the guests of Pharaoh. Their relative, Joseph, is the second-most powerful person in the land. They have land, jobs, house in which to live and no reason to complain about their circumstances. But Joseph knew that things would not always be that way. He knew that God had said they would be afflicted for 400 years. And He believed that they would one day return to the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was so confident that he made his brothers swear that they would dig up his bones and take them back to the land with them when they left.

The book of Exodus picks up the story from there. “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:5-7 ESV). Their number had increased from the original 70 to something that was probably in the millions. And their fruitfulness was going to expose a spirit of ruthlessness in the heart of the new Pharaoh.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 1Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. – Exodus 1:8-14 ESV

God was setting up the perfect scenario to fulfill His plan. He was going to return them to the land. He was going to accomplish His will for them. And Joseph had believed all along that this was going to happen just as God had predicted and promised it would. As the author of Hebrews said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Joseph had hoped for the day when his people would return to their land, and he was assured that it would happen. He had a strong conviction in the inevitability of it taking place. So much so that he gave instructions to have his bones returned to the land when it happened. And they were. After all the plagues and the killing of the first-borns, when the Egyptians finally released the Israelites, we are told, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here” (Exodus 13:19 ESV).

Joseph had placed his hope in God, and God had come through. Joseph had believed the promises of God, and God had not disappointed. Joseph had a future-focused faith that refused to give up on God just because his current circumstances seemed to contradict what God had promised. Faith is an assurance in things hoped for and a conviction regarding things yet unseen. God is not done yet. His plan is not yet complete. Give Him time. Give Him the trust he deserves. He has never failed to come through.

I’d Rather Die.

Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written. – Exodus 32:31-32 ESV

The people had sinned. While Moses had been up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people had grown restless and had decided to make their own god. They had turned to Aaron, Moses’ right-hand man, and demanded, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1 ESV). And Aaron had given in to their demand, created a golden calf and allowed the people to worship it, attributing to it the glory due to God alone. “And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:4 ESV). When God had seen what they had done, He was less than pleased and had told Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:9-10 ESV). God was going to destroy them. They had rebelled against Him, turning their back on Him and making for themselves false gods to replace the one true God. But the Scriptures tell us that “Moses implored the Lord his God” (Exodus 32:11 ESV). When he heard what God was going to do, Moses was grieved. The word “implored” does not adequately convey what was going on with Moses. The Hebrew word communicates with much more intensity. Moses was grieved to the point of sickness. The thought of God destroying the people of Israel literally made him sick to his stomach. He couldn’t bear the thought.

Now it’s important to remember that Moses and the people of Israel had had their fair share of issues since the time they had left Egypt. They had questioned his leadership over and over again. They had doubted his word, grumbled and complained, threatened to go back to Egypt and generally made his life miserable. But when he heard that God was going to destroy them, he was sickened at the thought. So he took his concern to God. “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:11-14 ESV). Moses gave God four great reasons to show mercy. He appealed to the very nature and character of God. First, He reminded God that these were His people. Secondly, it was He who delivered them from Egypt with great power, redeeming them from captivity and promising them their own land in Canaan. Third, if God was to destroy them now, the Egyptians would have every reason in the world to mock God and question His integrity. Finally, Moses reminded God of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses knew God to be a covenant-keeping God.

As a result of Moses’ prayer, the Scriptures say, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:14 ESV). Now this raises all kinds of questions, not the least of which is whether or not our prayers can change the mind of God. Or to put it another way, can we alter the will of God with our prayers? God seems to have clearly indicated His plan to destroy the people of Israel for their actions. Moses interceded and God appears to have changed His mind. But on closer inspection, we see that God had told Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:10 ESV). This was God speaking to Moses. It was as if God said to Moses, “Get out of my way! Let me at them!” In essence, God was testing Moses’ leadership characteristics. He was wanting to see what kind of a shepherd Moses really way. So He threatened to destroy those for whom Moses was responsible. And while Moses could have simply stepped aside and said, “Do what You want!”, he instead stepped up and intervened and interceded on their behalf. In fact, he told God that he would rather die than see the people destroyed. He was willing to give his life rather than see these rebellious, stubborn, stiff-necked people get what they deserved. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word that is often translated that God “repented” could also be translated that God was “comforted”. His anger was eased by the way in which Moses rose to the occasion. He stepped up. He interceded. He put his own life on the line in order to see the people of God spared.

In a way, I think this was far more a test for Moses than anything else. God was not surprised by the actions of the people. He was not caught off guard when He saw what they had done. But Moses was. He hadn’t seen this one coming. And when he saw God’s reaction, he suddenly realized just how serious the sin of the people really was. So he cried out to God on their behalf. He begged God to show mercy. He appealed to God’s covenant-keeping nature. And God spared them. Moses learned a great deal that day. He learned just how sinful the people really were. He learned just how much God hated sin. And he also learned just how merciful God could be even when faced with open rebellion and the blatant rejection of His goodness and grace. But the most important lesson he learned was the value of godly leadership. He was responsible. He had a vital job to do and he did it. He was willing to die for the people God had given him to lead. It makes me wonder just how committed I am to the people under my care. Do I love the people of God enough to give my life for them? Am I willing to die in order to see God’s people blessed by God? Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). My death can’t save anyone, but my willing sacrifice of self is the greatest expression of my love for them. What would this world be like if we had more man and women with the attitude of Moses?