God of the Impossible

21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“‘She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.

23 “‘Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
24 By your servants you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon,
to cut down its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses,
to come to its remotest height,
    its most fruitful forest.
25 I dug wells
    and drank waters,
to dry up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.

26 “‘Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
that you should make fortified cities
    crash into heaps of ruins,
27 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.

28 “‘I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
29 Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.’

30 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

33 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. – Isaiah 37:21-38 ESV

In his moment of greatest need, King Hezekiah had determined to trust God and called out to Him for help. He had appealed to God‘s power, sovereignty, covenant faithfulness, and sole standing as the creator of the universe. Hezekiah to his problem to God Almighty and begged Him to look down from heaven and act on their behalf. And now, Isaiah brings the king a message from God.

First, God had a word for Hezekiah:

“Because you prayed about King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Lord has spoken this word against him.” – Isaiah 37:21 NLT

Hezekiah’s trust in God, as evidenced by his prayer of intercession, was rewarded by God’s explanation of what was going to happen next. He let Hezekiah know exactly what His plans for Sennacherib and the Assyrians were going to be. And He delivered a personal message for King Sennacherib as well.

“…because of your raging against me
    and your arrogance, which I have heard for myself,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth.
I will make you return
    by the same road on which you came.” – Isaiah 37:29 NLT

It is important to remember just how bad the situation was when Hezekiah prayed his prayer to God. The Assyrian army was camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. A total of 46 cities within Judah had already fallen to the Assyrians, and King Sennacherib had sent word to the people of Jerusalem that they surrender or face certain annihilation. These were dark days for King Hezekiah. The prospects for his capital city and its inhabitants could not have looked bleaker. But he had taken his need to the Lord. It would be easy to conclude that Hezekiah had no other options. He had run out of tricks up his sleeve and was left with no other alternative but to cry out to God. But the important fact is that he did cry out to God. And God heard his cry and responded.

In his humiliated state of despair and need, dressed in sackcloth and completely aware of his own impotence and dependence upon God, Hezekiah had appealed to the Almighty. But King Sennacherib displays a markedly different attitude. In his pride and arrogance, dressed in his royal robes and boasting of his own power, he had mocked the Almighty. And God was not pleased.

“Whom have you been defying and ridiculing?
    Against whom did you raise your voice?
At whom did you look with such haughty eyes?
    It was the Holy One of Israel!” – Isaiah 37:23 NLT

Sennacherib was a walking ego, bragging about his many exploits and describing himself in self-adulating terms that made him sound like a god.

“You have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have conquered the highest mountains—
    yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars
    and its finest cypress trees.
I have reached its farthest heights
    and explored its deepest forests.
I have dug wells in many foreign lands
    and refreshed myself with their water.
With the sole of my foot,
    I stopped up all the rivers of Egypt!’” – Isaiah 37:24-25 NLT

Sennacherib suffered from “I” disease, a common malady among world leaders. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had the same problem.

“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Self-made men tend to suffer from self-exaltation. Their success goes to their heads, and they begin to believe that they alone are responsible for their fame and fortune. But God breaks the news to Sennacherib that his rapid rise to world domination had been anything but his own doing.

“But have you not heard?
    I decided this long ago.
Long ago I planned it,
    and now I am making it happen.
I planned for you to crush fortified cities
    into heaps of rubble.” – Isaiah 37:26 NLT

Sennacherib had been little more than an instrument in the hands of the sovereign God of the universe. God had used the Assyrians to accomplish His own divine ends. And as quickly as they had risen to power by the decree of God, they could just as easily be rendered a non-factor on the world stage by His hand. And God let Sennacherib know that his days were numbered. His fifteen minutes of fame was about to come to an abrupt end.

All of this had to have sounded too good to be true to Hezekiah. While he had prayed to God for help, the idea that God would completely eliminate the Assyrian problem was more than he could have dreamed. And God seems to have sensed Hezekiah’s lingering doubt, so He provided the king with proof. He let him know that, within three years time, the people of Judah would be planting and harvesting their crops just like they always had. The land, devastated by the Assyrians, would once again yield its crops and return to its former state of fruitfulness. And this is important to note because of the arrogant boast made by King Sennacherib.

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT

The Assyrian king had promised to provide the people of Judah with grain, grapes, wine and bread. He had arrogantly placed himself in the role of God Almighty. But God wanted Hezekiah to know that true fruitfulness came only from His hand. And while it would take some time before the remnants of the Assyrian army were removed from the land, God promised to restore the fortunes and fruitfulness of Judah.

“For a remnant of my people will spread out from Jerusalem,
    a group of survivors from Mount Zion.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!” – Isaiah 37:32 NLT

God was going to save a remnant of His people. He would not allow the Assyrians to destroy Jerusalem. Instead, He would intervene and display His covenant faithfulness to a people who had consistently refused to remain faithful to Him. He would redeem them, not because they deserved it, but because He is gracious and a God who keeps His commitments.

And God provided Hezekiah with one more detail regarding His plans for the Assyrians. They would never enter the gates of the city. Their boasting and bragging would turn out to be nothing more than idle threats. Not a single arrow would be fired. No siege walls would be built. The entire army of Assyria would disappear as quickly as it had come. And God had a special surprise for Sennacherib and his invincible army.

That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. – Isaiah 37:36-37 NLT

God delivered a miracle. The Lord of Heavens Armies sent a single angel who devastated the vaunted troops of Sennacherib’s army. Overnight, he lost 185,000 of his finest soldiers, and God didn’t even lift a finger. His work was accomplished by one of His angels, a sobering reminder of God’s superior strength and sovereign power. And the once mighty Sennacherib would return home to Assyria, only to face assassination at the hands of his own sons. His plans didn’t turn out as expected. But God’s did. His divine will was accomplished just as He had planned it long before Sennacherib was even born.

While things could not have looked bleaker from Hezekiah’s vantage point, he placed his trust in God. And he was far from disappointed. God accomplished the impossible. He did what Egypt could never have done. He provided a solution that was beyond man’s ability and outside human reasoning. In his wildest dreams, Hezekiah could have never imagined a scenario like this one. But because he trusted God, he was given the privilege of seeing the salvation of 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

 

Advertisements

Striking and Healing.

16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts shakes over them. 17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the Lord of hosts has purposed against them.

18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.

19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:16-25 ESV

egypt-assyria-israel-map.jpgThe key to understanding this section of the oracle delivered against the nation of Egypt is found in the repetitive statement, “in that day.” This is a reference to a future time when God will dramatically reverse the fortunes of the Egyptians. While, in the short-term, they would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, God reveals that there will be a day Egypt, Judah and the Assyrians will all worship Him together.

God describes a future period of time when the Egyptians would fear the people of God. Rather than Judah having to beg Egypt for help against their enemies, the Egyptians would tremble in fear before the people of Judah and their almighty God. The oracle describes five Egyptian cities where Hebrew will be the primary language. Not only that, the inhabitants of those cities will swear allegiance to Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. Quite a remarkable change of events. And it is quite obvious to see that these things have not yet taken place. But as far-fetched as these prophetic statements may seem to us, they should not be written off as being allegorical or metaphorical in nature. God is providing a glimpse into the eschatological future, the end times – a day when He will rectify all that is wrong on this earth. He is the Creator-God, and He will one day restore His creation to its former glory. That includes those who are made in His image – men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

The text mentions one of the five Egyptian cities being called “the City of Destruction.” In the Hebrew, the word is haheres, which translates into “City of Destruction.” But in several of the older manuscripts from which the Scriptures are translated, the word hakheres is found, which translates into “City of the Sun.” Because of the positive nature of this section of the oracle, it seems that this option is the appropriate one. The Greek rendering of hakheres is Heliopolis, which was the name of one Egypt’s most ancient cities where the sun god, Re, was worshiped. It would appear that the oracle is revealing that the Egyptians will one day abandon their worship of their false gods for worship of the one true God.

Another amazing aspect of “that day” is the mention of “an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border” (Isaiah 19:19 ESV). In a land that had been long known for its pantheon of false gods, the mention of an altar to Yahweh is significant. These monuments dedicated to the God of Israel will act as a sign, reminding the people of Egypt that He alone is their source of sustenance and salvation. In fact, the text tells us, “When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20 ESV). The very God who had brought plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses, will one day be the God to whom they turn for help in times of trouble and, He will answer them, sending them a savior and defender. 

It is important to recall that, during the days in which Moses was attempting to free the people of Israel from Egypt, God had promised, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5 ESV). But the Egyptians had continued to reject God. Later on, after God had brought the seventh plague of hail against the land of Egypt, Moses had told Pharoah, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Exodus 9:29-30 ESV).

In spite of all the plagues God brought against the people of Egypt, they would continue to reject Him as God and refuse to fear Him. But Isaiah describes a day, a future day when all that will change.

…the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. – Isaiah 19:21 ESV

The prophet Zechariah spoke of that very same day.

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. – Zechariah 14:16-19 ESV

The oracle of God reveals the dual nature of His relationship with mankind. It speaks of Him “striking and healing” the Egyptians. He will bring judgment, but He will also extend mercy. The Hebrew word translated as “striking” is nagaph and it refers to the striking with a fatal plague, sickness or death. But the Hebrew word translated as “healing” is rapha’ and it is best understood as, not so much a physical healing, but a restoration to favor. In fact, the text describes the Egyptians as returning (shuwb) to the Lord.

they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22 ESV

This is interesting phrasing because, in reality, the people of Egypt never worshiped God. And yet, they are described as returning to Him. This seems to be a picture of fallen mankind being restored to the former relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. Man was made in the image of God and meant to have an ongoing, unbroken relationship with Him. But sin severed that relationship. And yet, God, in His mercy, will one day restore fallen men. This is not a promise that all men will be saved, but that men from every tribe, nation and tongue will one day worship before the God who made them. The book of Revelation speaks of a day when a great multitude will stand before God’s throne.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

And Isaiah tells of a day when the nations will exist together in harmony. There will be a road leading all the way from Egypt to Assyria, winding its way through the land of Judah. And rather than armies marching along this road to wage war against one another, the Egyptians and Assyrians will use this highway to worship God together. Isaiah describes a God-ordained alliance between Israel, Assyria, and Egypt. He will one day bring the nations together in unity, joined by a common worship of and reverence for Himself. And rather than bringing judgment against the nations, God will bless them.

“Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:25 ESV

During Isaiah’s day, the people of God were attempting to create unity through alliances. But these alliances were premature and not God-ordained. God was not interested in Israel or Judah placing their hope in these nations. He wanted them to trust Him. If they would, He would bless them. In a sense, they were trying to face-forward God’s will by doing things their way. Too often, we fail to understand that God has a plan that far surpasses our comprehension. We can’t see into the future, and so, we find ourselves focusing on the here-and-now, and attempting to fix our problems in our own strength. But it is far better to trust in and wait on 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 Incomparable God.

“It is he who made the earth by his power,
    who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
    and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
    and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
    every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
    and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
    at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
    for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
    the Lord of hosts is his name.”
Jeremiah 51:15-19 ESV

In these verses, the prophet writes what amounts to be a hymn of praise to Yahweh, God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts. In the first few verses, God is referred to in the third person. His name remains unmentioned, but His deeds are outlines in great detail. He made the earth and preserves it through His wisdom. It was God who laid out the heavens and all they contain: The sun, stars, planets, galaxies, asteroids, nebula, black holes, and all that stretches out into the universe for millions of light years. And He created it with understand and gave it a precise order and structure. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is the result of chance or exists without God’s approval and creative power. And Marduk, the creator-god of the Babylonians played no part in any of it, because he is non-existent.

Jeremiah goes on to describe Yahweh as not only the creator, but the instigator and sustainer of all things.

When he speaks in the thunder,
    the heavens roar with rain.
He causes the clouds to rise over the earth.
    He sends the lightning with the rain
    and releases the wind from his storehouses. – Jeremiah 51:16 NLT

God’s voice carries weight. When He speaks, things happen. He declares that it should rain and it does. He calls the clouds to appear and they do so. The wind is at His beck and call. All nature is subservient to His sovereign will. Bel, the Babylonians storm god was not the one responsible for the weather. He was not the source behind the storms that brought wind, rain, thunder and lightning to the earth. It was all the handiwork of God Almighty. And yet, as obvious as all of this may be, the majority of the people who live on this planet are too ignorant to recognize the unmistakable attributes of God in the world around them. And Jeremiah describes mankind in less-than-flattering terms: “The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge!” (Jeremiah 51:17 NLT). Rather than attribute the mighty works found it nature to Yahweh, they give the credit to lifeless, man-made idols made of wood and stone.

The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make,
for their carefully shaped works are a fraud.
    These idols have no breath or power.
Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! – Jeremiah 51:17-18 NLT

How ridiculous it is for someone to make an idol with their own hands and then step back and claim that this block of wood or carved stone is a deity with powers to rescue them from danger, protect them from harm, bless then for their worship, and sustain them throughout life. The prophet Isaiah echoes the sentiments of Jeremiah.

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT

And he’s not done.

The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool,
    pounding and shaping it with all his might.
His work makes him hungry and weak.
    It makes him thirsty and faint.
Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood
    and draws a pattern on it.
He works with chisel and plane
    and carves it into a human figure.
He gives it human beauty
    and puts it in a little shrine.
He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship! – Isaiah 44:12-15 NLT

It’s so pathetic, it’s sad. How silly it all comes across when you see it written down in black and white. How ludicrous the whole idea appears, and yet, man has made a habit of manufacturing his own gods for generations. The apostle Paul describes it in stark terms: “they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise” (Romans 1:25 NLT).

And Isaiah goes on to paint the idiocy of idols in embarrassingly silly terms.

He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!” – Isaiah 44:15-17 NLT

And Jeremiah provides us with a vivid juxtaposition between these lifeless, helpless idols and the one true God.

But the God of Israel is no idol!
    He is the Creator of everything that exists,
including his people, his own special possession.
    The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! – Jeremiah 51:19 NLT

That statement should bring us joy and create in us a sense of quiet confidence and growing trust. Our God is real. He is not the byproduct of man’s fertile imagination. He is not created. He is the creator! Everything that exists is due to Him. Even the wood that sinful, foolish men use to make false gods. Even the precious metals and stones they use to decorate their lifeless deities. He is unmade, eternal, all-powerful, and in complete control of all things. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is incomparable. He is without peer. And, once again, the prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s declaration of His unmatched, unequaled status as the one and only God of the universe.

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?
Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:5-7 NLT

Idols can’t answer prayers. Idols can’t rescue those in trouble. Idols can’t move from one place to another without human help. Idols can’t do anything. But God can. He is incomparable, totally reliable and completely without equal.

 

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

Their Redeemer Is Strong.

“Summon archers against Babylon, all those who bend the bow. Encamp around her; let no one escape. Repay her according to her deeds; do to her according to all that she has done. For she has proudly defied the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. Therefore her young men shall fall in her squares, and all her soldiers shall be destroyed on that day, declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O proud one,
    declares the Lord God of hosts,
for your day has come,
    the time when I will punish you.
The proud one shall stumble and fall,
    with none to raise him up,
and I will kindle a fire in his cities,
    and it will devour all that is around him.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them. All who took them captive have held them fast; they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon.

“A sword against the Chaldeans, declares the Lord,
    and against the inhabitants of Babylon,
    and against her officials and her wise men!
A sword against the diviners,
    that they may become fools!
A sword against her warriors,
    that they may be destroyed!
A sword against her horses and against her chariots,
    and against all the foreign troops in her midst,
    that they may become women!
A sword against all her treasures,
    that they may be plundered!
A drought against her waters,
    that they may be dried up!
For it is a land of images,
    and they are mad over idols.

“Therefore wild beasts shall dwell with hyenas in Babylon, and ostriches shall dwell in her. She shall never again have people, nor be inhabited for all generations. As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring cities, declares the Lord, so no man shall dwell there, and no son of man shall sojourn in her.

“Behold, a people comes from the north;
    a mighty nation and many kings
    are stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
They lay hold of bow and spear;
    they are cruel and have no mercy.
The sound of them is like the roaring of the sea;
    they ride on horses,
arrayed as a man for battle
    against you, O daughter of Babylon!

“The king of Babylon heard the report of them,
    and his hands fell helpless;
anguish seized him,
    pain as of a woman in labor.

“Behold, like a lion coming up from the thicket of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly make them run away from her, and I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me? Therefore hear the plan that the Lord has made against Babylon, and the purposes that he has formed against the land of the Chaldeans: Surely the little ones of their flock shall be dragged away; surely their fold shall be appalled at their fate. At the sound of the capture of Babylon the earth shall tremble, and her cry shall be heard among the nations.” Jeremiah 50:29-46 ESV

Babylon the great would prove no match for God the Almighty. That is the bottom-line essence of this very long and quite detailed oracle. Babylon, “the proud one”, would fall before God, the Redeemer of Israel and Judah. Multiple times in this section of the oracle, God points out the pride of Babylon.

“Repay her according to her deeds; do to her according to all that she has done. For she has proudly defied the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.” – Jeremiah 50:29 ESV

Again, it may seem disconcerting to us that God would hold Babylon accountable for something He had summoned her to do. They had acted as a instrument of judgment in His hands, meting out justice against the rebellious people of Judah. But God has made it clear that their role was completely complicit and willing. He had not forced them to attack the nations of Canaan and Palestine. He had given Nebuchadnezzar his desire for global domination. God had simply used the greed and aggrandizement of the Babylonians for His divine purposes. And they would be hold accountable for their role. The fact was, they had not given their attack against the people of God a second thought. They had arrogantly planned and carried out their destruction of Jerusalem without a hint of fear or remorse. And now, God let’s them know that they will be repaid in full for what they had done. Their pride would result in their fall.

“Behold, I am against you, O proud one,
    declares the Lord God of hosts,
for your day has come,
    the time when I will punish you.
The proud one shall stumble and fall,
    with none to raise him up…” – Jeremiah 50:31-32 ESV

When God was done with them, there would be no return to power for the Babylonians. Their defeat would not be temporary or partial. This would not be a case of a battle lost or an inconvenient setback in their plans. It would be the end of all Babylon stood for and it would be devastatingly complete.

Right in the middle of this section of the oracle, God places a well-chosen word about Israel and Judah, His covenant people.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them. All who took them captive have held them fast; they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon.” – Jeremiah 50:33-34 ESV

Through His prophet, Jeremiah, God reminds the people of Judah that they are His and He is their Redeemer. No matter how bad things may get and how difficult their lot in life may appear, He will be with them. He has been and continues to be their Redeemer. The Hebrew word that is translated, “redeemer” is ga’al and it refers to a kinsman-redeemer, a close relative whose job it is to step in and rescue their afflicted or oppressed family member. Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, marrying her and rescuing her from her poverty. Abraham played the part of Lot’s kinsman-redeemer, rescuing him from captivity. The kinsman-redeemer was expected to avenge, revenge, ransom or rescue the one in trouble. And that is exactly what God was promising to do for Israel and Judah, His two wayward children. Both of these nations, made up of the 12 tribes of Israel, had wandered away from God. They had played the part of the prodigal son, leaving their Father and wasting all He had given them in lives of self-indulgent pleasure and promiscuity. But now, He would turn from being their prosecutor to being their rescuer.

God is bringing a sword against the leaders of Babylon, the inhabitants of the nation, the diviners, warriors, horses and chariots, mercenaries, treasures, idols and images. No one will be spared. From their many false gods to the people that worship them, all would fall under God’s judgment. And God makes it quite clear that there is nothing the nation of Babylon will be able to do to escape their fate.

“I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me?” – Jeremiah 50:44 ESV

He describes Himself as a lion, suddenly pouncing on His prey. They will be like helpless sheep, incapable of defending themselves and left totally unprotected by their shepherds. It’s interesting to note that the prophet, Hosea, wrote of God using this same description, but in speaking of His judgment against Israel and Judah.

“For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

“I will return again to my place,
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face,
    and in their distress earnestly seek me.” – Hosea 5:14-15 ESV

Now, God was going to turn the tables and come against the enemies of Israel and Judah. And the book of Revelation describes yet another description of the lion, this time of Jesus, as the conquering, victorious Messiah. The apostle John writes:

But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders.Revelation 5:5-6 ESV

God’s plan is comprehensive and complete. He is the Redeemer of His people. His Son, the Messiah, while finished with His redemptive work on the cross, has one last job to complete. He will one day return and redeem His people. He will restore order to the chaos that currently rules the world. He will fulfill every promise made by God the Father to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He will fulfill the promise made to David that he would have an heir to sit on his throne is Jerusalem forever. The Redeemer of Israel and Judah is strong. His Word is true. His plan is perfect. And His Son is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.


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

Breathless and Worthless.

Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”

It is he who made the earth by his power,
    who established the world by his wisdom,
    and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
    and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
    and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
    every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
    and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
    at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
    for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
    the Lord of hosts is his name.

Gather up your bundle from the ground,
    O you who dwell under siege!
For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I am slinging out the inhabitants of the land
    at this time,
and I will bring distress on them,
    that they may feel it.”
Jeremiah 10:11-18 ESV

False gods versus the one true God. There is no comparison. There are no similarities. The only thing they share in common is that when the Babylonians invade Judah, their temples and shrines will all be plundered and destroyed. Even the gods themselves, will be taken as booty. Those made of precious metals will be melted down and re-purposed. Any wooden idols will be burned to ashes with the rest of the city when it is destroyed. And as Jeremiah so bluntly puts it, “When the time comes to punish them, they will be destroyed” (Jeremiah 10:15 NLT). But while the temple of Yahweh will end up plundered and its holy objects taken as loot, Yahweh Himself will remain alive and well. He will not cease to be simply because His house of worship is destroyed. As verse 11 states, it is “the gods who did not make the heavens and the earth” that will perish from the earth and from under the heavens. Not only will they be proven temporal and not eternal, they will be exposed as false. They have no power because they have no life. But it is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews who “made the earth by his power, and he preserves it by his wisdom. With his own understanding he stretched out the heavens.” (Jeremiah 10:12 NLT). Yahweh is the one who made all that exists, including the trees that provided the wood that was carved into a lifeless idol. He made possible the gold that was used by sinful men to craft a figurine to which they would bow down in worship.

Yahweh alone has power. He controls the seasons. He sends the rain and lightning. He speaks and the skies thunder and shake. He gives life to all living things. He is the great and incomparable Creator-God. And yet, for generations, mankind has managed to look past God’s divine attributes and place their hopes in gods that lifeless and powerless to help them.

The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge!
    The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make,
for their carefully shaped works are a fraud.
    These idols have no breath or power.
Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! – Jeremiah 10:14-15 NLT

But God is no idol. He is not a figment of man’s imagination. The God of the Hebrews was not invented by them. In fact, it was the other way around.

But the God of Israel is no idol!
    He is the Creator of everything that exists,
including Israel, his own special possession.
    The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! – Jeremiah 10:16 NLT

God made the people of Judah. He crafted them with His own hands. Then He called them to be His own possession. He set them apart to be a holy nation, belonging to Him and commanded to live in obedience to Him. He had made a covenant with them and had promised to provide for and protect them, as long as they remained faithful to Him. He had commanded them not to worship other gods.

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” – Exodus 20:2-6 NLT

But they had rejected their rescuer. They had turned their backs on their creator. And they had proven unfaithful to the one who had faithfully loved and cared for them over the generations. He had patiently tolerated their stubbornness and forgiven their sins. He had allowed them to sacrifice countless animals in order to experience atonement and enjoy continuing fellowship with Him, even though they had no intention of changing their ways. Like an abused spouse, God had put up with their infidelity and forgiven their indiscretions. But the time had come for Him to repay them for their sins. And He tells Jeremiah to warn the people of Judah that His patience has worn out.

Pack your bags and prepare to leave;
    the siege is about to begin.
For this is what the Lord says:
“Suddenly, I will fling out
    all you who live in this land.
I will pour great troubles upon you,
    and at last you will feel my anger.” – Jeremiah 10:17-18 NLT

God was far from breathless and worthless. He spoke and His words had power. He was and is majestic in nature and fully capable of acting like God. You could destroy His temple, steal his holy treasures, kill His priests, and reduce the city called by His name to rubble, but He would continue to exist in all His glory, might and majesty. You could come up with a host of other gods to worship and manufacture as many idols as there are stars in heaven, but in the end, He would be the last god standing. God could not be relegated to a building or placed on a bookshelf or mantel. He couldn’t be carried from one place to another. Even King Solomon, at the dedication of the great temple he had built for God, was forced to admit: “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27 NLT). And Stephen, in the sermon he gave that led to his stoning, reminded the Jews of his day that God was greater than the temple.

“…it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” – Acts 7:47-50 NLT

Idolatry is sheer stupidity. It makes no sense. But that doesn’t change the fact that man has always been drawn to worship what he can make rather than revere the One who made him. Ever since the fall, mankind has made a habit out of making gods, because man was made to worship. We were originally made by God for the worship of God. We were intended to enjoy unbroken fellowship with Him and experience the joy of His love and the pleasure of returning that love in worship, honor and praise. But sin changed all that. Sin brought self-worship. It resulted in man’s obsession with false gods that are really nothing more than mere replicas of man himself. The false gods we make are intended to provide us with a false sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction. We tend to make gods whose primary purposes are to serve us, rather than be served by us. They exist for our pleasure, not the other way around. Because at the end of the day, what we really long for is to be gods ourselves. It was the very desire Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

But Adam and Eve proved to be worthless gods. In disobeying God, they gained a knowledge of good and evil, but not the capacity to choose one over the other. Rather than becoming like god, they were forced out of His presence and learned the painful lesson of life without Him. They had become their own gods. And like the people of Judah, they would find that their gods were breathless and worthless.

 

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

When Getting Back Means Letting Go.

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

We read it Exodus 1, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8 ESV). Joseph was gone. Time had passed and the preferential treatment received by his family was about to be a thing of the past. The descendants of Jacob had been fruitful during their peaceful stay in Egypt and their dramatic increase in number got the attention of Pharaoh and raised alarm bells in his mind. What if we go to war and they decide to turn against us and side with our enemies, he reasoned in his mind. Paranoia set in and he determined to turn them into slaves in order to control them. The book of Exodus tells us exactly what happened:

…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 1:13-15 ESV

But that wasn’t enough for Pharaoh. It was their sheer numbers that worried him, not their military might. After all, they were predominantly shepherds. So he came up with a plan. He commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children as soon as they came out of the womb. He was going to take care of his perceived problem by infanticide. But fearing God, the Hebrew midwives refused to obey the command of Pharaoh and when he confronted them about their blatant lack of follow through, they said, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19 ESV). They practiced an early form of civil disobedience and God blessed them for it. So when Pharaoh’s initial plan failed, he came up with another one.

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” – Exodus 1:22 ESV

This is where our passage for today comes in.

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” – Exodus 2:1-10 ESV

The couple involved in this story were Amram and Jochebed. They were just an obscure couple who, like all the other couples living at that time, were struggling with fear and apprehension due to the edict of the Pharaoh that their male children should be sacrificed to the Nile. And I believe it was Pharaoh’s intent that each and every Hebrew male child thrown into the Nile was to have been a sacrifice to Hapi, their water and fertility god. The symbols for Hapi were the lotus and papyrus plants. Papyrus was a reed that grew along the banks of the Nile and it was used for everything from paper, rope, furniture and boats. Hapi was believed to be the greatest of the Egyptian gods and was thought to be the make of the universe and the creator all all things. Each year, at the time of the flooding of the Nile, the people would throw amulets, sacrifices and other offerings into the river to appease Hapi and to ensure a fruitful season of planting and harvest.

In the story, Jochebed makes a small boat made of reeds and places her newborn son in the river in order to protect him from Pharaoh. But rather than seeing her act as a sacrifice to Hapi, she was placing him in the hands of Yahweh, the God of the people of Israel. The author of Hebrews seems to indicate she and her husband somehow knew that there was something special about this child. The New International Version translates the phrase as “they saw he was no ordinary child.” Luke records in the book of Acts, “At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house” (Acts 7:20 ESV). The word, beautiful is the same Greek word used in the Hebrews passage. Somehow God communicated the uniqueness of this child to his parents and they determined to save his life. Jochebed made a reed boat and placed him in the river, trusting in the sovereign will of God to protect him. And God did just that. Luke goes on to record, “and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:21-22 ESV). When Jochebed set the basket in the river she had no idea what was going to happen. But she had an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). She placed her faith in God and He came through. Somewhat ironically, but not coincidentally, Moses was rescued into Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted into the family of the very man who was out to destroy him. God was at work.

Amram and Jochebed did not know what God had planned. They simply knew that their son was somehow unique and special. They placed him in river fully trusting in God to do with him as He saw fit. What they did, they did by faith. And like Abraham with Isaac, when these two parents entrusted their son to God, they received him back. Jochebed would be given the unbelievable opportunity to nurse the very son she had placed in the basket, not knowing what would happen to him. She had been willing to give up that which she loved to Him in whom she believed. And she would live to see her son become more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. God would use her child to set His people free from their captivity and fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham all those years ago. The very act of placing their son in that reed basket and setting him afloat on the Nile was an act of faith in God. They were trusting in the One whom they could not see to do what they could only hope for – the preservation of the life of their son.

Hear. Forgive. Act.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

As Daniel wraps up his prayer, he refocuses his attention on the mercy of God. He asks that God would hear his prayer. He asks that God would forgive the transgressions he has just confessed. Finally, he begs God to hear and do something about it. In the Hebrew, the next phrase is in the negative. He actually says, “delay not.” He is asking that God intervene immediately. In other words, he wants to see the power of God unleashed without delay. After all, they had been waiting 70 years. According to the writings of Jeremiah, the time was ripe for God’s promise or restoration to be fulfilled. Daniel wanted to see it happen ASAP.

But what is interesting is the reason Daniel gave for God to hear, forgive and act. He appeals to God based on His own name and reputation. From Daniel’s human perspective, he saw it as a case of God’s character being at stake. People had already been talking about the state of affairs in Israel, and how their God had abandoned them. Daniel had to have heard countless rumors and discussions regarding God’s apparent apathy toward His own people or His inability to do anything about their condition. Even the Israelites had to have given up hope that their God was ever going to do something about their captivity. That is probably why so many of them had turned to the gods of Babylon. But Daniel held on to what he knew about God. He put his hope in the reality of who God claimed to be and what He had already done for the people of Israel. The words of Jeremiah the prophet rang in his ear, providing him with the faith he needed to keep on believing.

There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. – Jeremiah 10:6-10 ESV

Daniel’s God was incomparable. He was without equal in power and was worthy of all honor. Daniel longed for God to protect His own name, because he knew the people of Judah were incapable of carrying it off. He asked God to do something because he was painfully well aware that the chosen people of God had chosen to do nothing. There was nothing they could do. They were complete incapable of changing their ways. They were stubborn, rebellious and prone to solve their problems their own way. But Daniel knew they had one hope: God. He knew if anything was going to happen, it would have to be up to God. And if God was to do anything, it would be based on His own desire to protect the character and reputation of His name. God would not allow Himself to be perceived as a liar, as weak, as uncaring, without compassionate, powerless, indifferent, always angry, unmerciful, or unloving. God had promised to restore the people of Judah, and He would. God had made a covenant with the people of Judah, and He would keep it. God was all-powerful, and He would show it. God was loving, and He would prove it. God was sovereign, and He would reveal it. God would hear, forgive and act. Not because of the people of Judah, but because He is God.

Exodus 5-6, Matthew 28

I Am and I Will.

Exodus 5-6, Matthew 28

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.I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.” – Exodus 6:6-8 ESV

There are two primary problems that all men share when it comes to God. First, is His very existence. Men struggle with knowing whether God actually exists or not. They doubt and debate it. Many simply deny it. But for those who come to the realization that God is real, the next problem becomes whether or not He is actually at work in our world. They believe in God, but doubt His promises and question His ability to intervene in the everyday affairs of their lives. This section of God’s story, found in the book of Exodus, reveals God attempting to convince men of both His existence and His power to do what He says He will do. The Israelites had been living in Egypt for over 400 years. They had been “Egyptianized.” They had grown comfortable with and close to all the gods of the land of Egypt. They had little or no relationship with the God of their ancestor, Abraham. Much of what happens in the book of Exodus is about God trying to convince His own people of His presence and power. They had to be convinced that He was the one true God and that He had the power to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

What does this passage reveal about God?

He is the great “I Am.” He is Yahweh, the singular and solitary God of the universe. There are no other gods beside Him. He alone is God. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is not only the creator of the universe and all it contains, He maintains complete control over everything in it. But the Israelites didn’t know all of this at the time. They viewed God as just another diety in a long line of gods. Pharaoah had no concept of Moses’ God and stated, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2 ESV). He refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, and instead, upped the pressure on the people of Israel, increasing their labor even more. Pharaoh had his gods and had no use for or fear of the god of the Jews. Even Moses had second thoughts about God. He knew He existed because he had had a personal encounter with Him at the burning bush. But after being confronted by his own people and blamed for their worsening circumstances, Moses began to question God’s plan and doubt His power. “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?  For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23 ESV).

But God had a purpose behind all of this. He knew what He was doing. He told Moses, “I Am and I will.” He wanted Moses and the people to be certain of His presence and fully aware of His power. And He was going to choose to do it through His dealings with the Egyptians. And His objective? “…you shall know that I am the Lord your God!” All throughout the book of Exodus, you will see this phrase repeated. When all was said and done, the Israelites AND the Egyptians were going to know that God is God. He is the only true God. He not only IS, He DOES. He not only exists, He is the self-existent one. He has no beginning or end. He is not limited by space or time. He is everywhere at once, and is able to see all that is going on in all places at all times. Our greatest need is to recognize His presence and to trust in His power. He is still the great I Am and He will do what He has promised to do in our lives just as He did for Moses and the people of Israel.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is prone to doubt God’s existence. Even when we believe He exists, we tend to doubt His presence in and around our lives. Our inability to see Him makes us question His reality. The presence of problems in our lives makes us doubt His power over our lives. Moses had had a personal encounter with God. He had spoken directly with Him. And yet, when things God tough, he began to doubt and question God. The people of Israel found themselves facing mounting pressure and personal discomfort at the hands of the Egyptians, so they reacted in anger and distrust. They blamed Moses and doubted God. “…they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exodus 6:9 ESV). Their view of God was limited by their circumstances. They allowed the size of their God to be limited by the size of their problem. But God said, “I Am and I will.” Their doubt did not diminish God’s capacity to perform. Their doubt did not make God any less powerful or capable. He was God and He would act. He had promised and He would fulfill that promise. He had seen and heard and He would respond. And while to Moses it may have appeared that God had been inactive, he would find that nothing could have been further from the truth.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I rarely doubt God’s existence. I simply doubt His presence. I know He’s there. I just sometimes wonder if He is here. That God is in heaven, sitting on His throne is a comfortable concept for me. But to recognize that He is present in the everyday affairs of my life is a bit harder for me to comprehend and believe. I tend to judge the presence of God based on my circumstances. When all is going well, He is obviously there. But let anything go wrong in my life, and I can begin to question His existence or at least His willingness to intervene. I need to see God as the great I Am, who will. He is real and He is intimately aware of my circumstance and fully capable of doing all that He has promised to do in my life – regardless of what I may see going on around me. His apparent inaction is nothing more than my inability to see Him at work behind the scenes. Moses did not know the intimate details of God’s plan, neither do I. I can’t see what He is doing behind the scenes. So I must take God at His word and trust His character more than I trust what my eyes can see.

In the closing chapter of the book of Matthew, we see the disciples grieving over the loss of their Messiah. He is dead. Their hopes are shattered. Their dreams have been dashed. The women went to the tomb to anoint His body, but encountered an angel who told them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where helay” (Matthew 28:5-6 ESV). Once again, God had done what He had said He would do. Jesus had told His disciples that He would have to suffer and die, but that He would rise again on the third day. And He had.

“I AM and I will.”

God had done the improbably and the impossible. He had provided salvation for man through the death of His own Son. He had satisfied His own just requirement for the payment of mankind’s sins with the life of His own Son. Jesus Himself had claimed to be the great I Am. He had said He was going to die, but also promised to rise again. And He did. He was the Son of God and He did what He said He would do. Our greatest need is to recognize God’s existence in our lives and His power to do all that He has promised to do. He is STILL the great I AM and He WILL do what He has said He will do.

Father, forgive me for doubting You. Forgive me for not seeing Your handiwork all around my life all throughout the years of my life. You have been there. You have been acting behind the scenes in so many ways. You have been there time and time again, but I still tend to doubt. I still tend to question Your presence and Your power. Give me the ability to trust You more. Help me to focus on the reality of You rather than the circumstances that surround me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Kings 17

“Yahweh Is God!”

“But Ahab did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. And as though it were not enough to live like Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to worship Baal.” ­– 1 Kings 16:30-31 NLT

Things were bad in Israel and getting worse. A sad succession of kings had led the people of Israel deeper and deeper into apostasy, turning their backs on God and turning to other gods for their hope and help. And just when you think they’ve reached rock bottom, along comes yet another king who leads them even further down the road of spiritual rebellion. Ahab would prove to be one of the worst kings yet. He and his wife Jezebel made up a tag team that wreaked havoc on the spiritual condition of Israel. They officially replaced the worship of Yahweh with the worship of Baal – the Canaanite fertility god. This was especially distasteful to God because the Canaanites and their god were to have been wiped out when the people took over the Promised Land. Now Ahab was making Baal worship the government-sanctioned religion of his kingdom. This would go on for 14 years before God raised up a spokesman to stand up against King Ahab. Out of nowhere come Elijah the Tishbite. He boldly confronts the king and issues a decree against him that there will be no rain in the kingdom of Israel until he says so. Obviously, Elijah is speaking on behalf of God. God had warned the people repeatedly that if they turn against Him and worship other gods, He would bring drought on the land. “And if, in spite of this, you still disobey me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your arrogant spirit by making the skies above as unyielding as iron and the earth beneath as hard as bronze” (Leviticus 26:18-19 NLT). Now Elijah was reminding Ahab of the consequences of his sin.

What is fascinating in this story is that God chooses to speak through a man whose name just so happens to mean, “Yahweh is God.” As soon as Ahab heard the name of this man who had stormed into his palace issuing threats, he would have gotten the irony in it all. Here he was setting up Baal as god and in the door walks a man whose very name reminds him that Yahweh is God. Not only that, the punishment Elijah threatens Ahab with is drought – due to no rain. It just so happens that Baal is the god in charge of RAIN. He was the storm god, the god responsible for fertility and crops.  Now Ahab was going to see just how great his god really was. And Elijah, this obscure and unlikely spokesman for Yahweh was going to find out just how powerful his God was.

After giving Ahab the bad news, Elijah was sent into hiding by God. During this time, God would begin to reveal Himself to Elijah, preparing him for an even greater confrontation with Ahab to come. By the side of the brook Cherith, God shows Elijah his provisional power. He miraculously feeds Elijah using a common raven as his servant. When the brook dries up, God sends Elijah to the home of a Gentile widow who just happens to be a worshiper of Yahweh. This woman, a widow, is already poor but is now suffering even more due to the drought. Yet God show Elijah His inexhaustible power by miraculously multiplying the widow’s resources so that she could live through the drought. When the widow’s son suddenly dies, Elijah gets to see God’s restorative power and the significance of prayer in the life God’s children. In death, this boy represents the spiritual condition of Israel. They needed reviving at the hand of God. Only He could restore them to life and rescue them from their spiritual death. Elijah was learning to trust the one who had called him and sent him as His spokesman to Ahab. He would need to trust in the power of God in the days to come. He was going to be facing some difficult situations in the days to come and God was preparing him for battle.

Father, You want to prove Your power in my life each and every day. You want me to know that You can provide, that Your provision is inexhaustible, and that You are in the restoration business. Nothing is too difficult for You. The more I recognize Your power in my life, the more I will learn to trust and lean on You instead of myself. You are greater than all the little god-replacements we set up in our lives. Never let me forget that. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org