Does God Accept Excuses?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #6)

Forty years had passed since Moses had killed an Egyptian taskmaster, fled from Egypt, and settled down in Midian. His Pharaoh grandfather, the one who had sought his death for killing that taskmaster, was now dead (Exodus 2:23). As for the Israelites, they were still crying out to God because of their bondage to the Egyptians (Exodus 2:23). God heard their cries, as He had heard all the ones that had risen up before those, and He set Himself to the task of getting Moses back to Egypt.

God accomplished that task by appearing to Moses in a burning bush at Mount Sinai, which was also known as Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:1-2). As Moses was shepherding his father’s flock in that area one day, he noticed that a certain bush wasn’t being consumed by the flames even though it was ablaze. This unnatural occurrence piqued his curiosity, and he went to investigate. As he stood there before the bush, suddenly a voice came from the midst of the bush. The voice said, “Moses, Moses!” Moses, in total astonishment, said, “Here I am.” Then the voice said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5, N.K.J.V.). How’s that for an attention getter?

The Bible says it was the Angel of the Lord who spoke from the bush (Exodus 3:2). Don’t miss the capital “A” on that word “Angel.” This Angel of the Lord was a character who showed up from time to time in the Old Testament era, and each time He did it was clear that He was none other God Himself. For example, the Angel of the Lord in the story of the burning bush went on to say to Moses, “I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6, N.K.J.V.).

Since the Bible always places God the Father in heaven, commentators interpret the Old Testament’s Angel of the Lord to be Jesus, God the Son, appearing in a preincarnate form. This interpretation makes logical sense, and it also explains why the Angel of the Lord never appears in the New Testament. Commentators call each appearance of the Angel of the Lord a “Christophany,” which simply means “an appearance of Christ.”

Moses’ reaction to hearing that he was having a conversation with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was to hide his face in fear (Exodus 3:6). Jesus, however, kept on talking:

And the Lord said, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-8, N.K.J.V.)

It is here that we would expect Moses to say: “Yes, Lord! I’ve been waiting on this opportunity for forty years. I was trying to lead your people all those years ago when I killed that Egyptian taskmaster, but things didn’t work out like I thought they would. But if You are ready for me to make another run at it, I’m all in. When do I leave for Egypt?” But that is decidedly not what Moses said. Rather than be quick to take the Lord up on His offer, Moses started dragging his feet and making excuses for why he wasn’t the man for the job. Here is a list of those excuses and God’s response to them:

  • (Exodus 3:11-12): Moses said, “Who am I that I should do this job? I’m nobody.” God responded by saying, “I’ll be with you. I’ll even give you a sign that I truly have chosen you for this assignment. That sign will be: When the whole exodus is said and done, you and the people of Israel will serve Me right here at this same mountain.”
  • (Exodus 3:13-14): Moses said, “I don’t even know Your name. When I go to the people of Israel and they ask me the name of the God who has sent me, what shall I say to them?” God’s answer was, “My name is I AM WHO I AM. Tell them, ‘I AM has sent you.'”
  • (Exodus 4:1-9): Moses said, “But what if they won’t believe that You have sent me or that You have appeared to me?” In response to that, God first told him to throw his rod down on the ground. As the rod was lying there, it became a serpent. When Moses picked it back up, it became a rod again. Second, God told him to stick his hand in his bosom. Moses did, and when he pulled the hand back out it was white with leprosy. Third, God told him to stick his hand in his bosom a second time. Moses did, and when he pulled the hand back out the leprosy was healed. Fourth, God said to him, “And if the people won’t believe these signs, you will take water from the river and that water will become blood on dry land.” All of these miracles would be God’s way of verifying that Moses truly was His handpicked leader.
  • (Exodus 4:10-12): Moses said, “Lord, I have never been an eloquent speaker.” (By the way, that’s an interesting claim considering that Acts 7:22 indicates that Moses was mighty in words and deeds during his first forty years in Egypt. Was Moses lying to God about not being a good speaker?) But God’s response was, “I am the one who makes everyone’s mouth, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you should say.”
  • (Exodus 4:13-6): Moses said, “Lord, please send somebody else!” God responded to that by getting angry and agreeing to let Aaron, Moses’ older brother, serve as Moses’ spokesman. God would tell Moses what to say, and Moses would in turn pass those words along to Aaron.

Excuses, excuses. But before we come down too hard on Moses, let’s admit that we oftentimes don’t respond much better than he did to God’s commands. God, of course, doesn’t buy our excuses anymore than He bought those Moses tried to use That’s why I encourage you to stop making yours and just go ahead and bite the bullet by obeying God. I won’t tell you that obedience is always easy, but I will tell you that it is always right. Thankfully for Israel (and the world at large) Moses finally did what God was calling Him to do. Here’s hoping that you do the same in accepting your calling.

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Does God Call the Qualified or Qualify the Called?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #5)

In a very real sense, Moses was uniquely qualified to be the man through whom God would deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage. For one thing, he was an Egyptian by upbringing but an Israelite by birth. For another, even though he knew all the worldly wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), he also knew Israel’s God intimately enough to choose to suffer affliction with the Israelites rather than continue to enjoy a life of ease with the Egyptians (Hebrews 11:24-26). Needless to say, guys like that didn’t come a dime a dozen. Therefore, it was only logical that God would call Moses to the role of deliverer. It was a classic case of God calling the qualified.

On the other hand, little if anything in Moses’ training could have prepared him to lead over two million people on a long trek through the wilderness wasteland of the Sinai Peninsula. That would require experience with such terrain, to say nothing of experience in shepherding a flock in the midst of sparse surroundings. Moses’ Egyptian wisdom had given him a knowledge of how to harness the Nile river to provide drinking water and rich farmland for millions of Egyptians, but the Sinai Peninsula was a long way from the Nile. Therefore, it was only logical that God would qualify Moses for the role of deliverer. It was a classic case of God qualifying the called.

This qualifying wouldn’t take place during Moses’ forty years in Egypt. Instead, it would take place in the region of Midian during his forty years shepherding his father-in-law’s flock. Let’s not think that is was merely a coincidence that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush at Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb, Exodus 3:1) rather than along the banks of the Nile. It would be that mountain, not any mountain in Egypt, that would come to be known as “the mountain of God” (Exodus 3:1). As part of Moses’ experience at the burning bush, God told him, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). God said that because He knew that before He would bring Moses and the Israelites to the brink of the promised land of Canaan, He would bring them to Mount Sinai. There they would remain encamped for over a year, receive His law, and build the movable Tabernacle complex called for by the law.

For forty years in Midian, God taught Moses humility. He taught him patience. He taught him the work ethic of a shepherd. He taught him how to function successfully in the desolate region surrounding Mount Sinai. He taught him how to walk in step-by-step obedience to God rather than racing ahead in his own wisdom the way he had done in killing that Egyptian taskmaster. This was Moses’ post-Egyptian training. This was his post-graduate work. This was his qualifying.

Does God call the qualified? Yes, He does. Does He qualify the called? Yes, He does. The truth is that He uses everything about a person — the person’s nationality, upbringing, scholastic education, family situation, life experiences, etc. — in His molding and shaping of that person for service.

Take Saul of Tarsus for example. He was certainly qualified to become Paul, the apostle who would preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles alike. Not only was he born a Jew (Philippians 3:5), he was also born an official citizen of the Gentile Roman empire (Acts 22:22-29). Not only did he receive his training in Judaism under Gamaliel, the most famous rabbi of that day (Acts 22:3), he was also a tentmaker by profession (Acts 18:1-3). All of these things, in a worldly sense, made Saul highly qualified to become an apostle of Christ. However, he didn’t even know Christ as his Savior until the resurrected, glorified Jesus encountered him on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). That encounter was a case of Jesus qualifying the called.

Perhaps you are feeling called by God to perform some specific type of service for Him, but you are wondering if you are qualified for the job. My answer is this: If you aren’t qualified God will see to it that you get qualified, and if you are qualified He will see to it that you get even more qualifying to fill in the gaps of whatever you are missing. Listen, God will never ask you to do something that you can’t do. Even if you can do it, He won’t leave you to do it by yourself. He knows how to use what you’ve got, and He knows how to give you what you need so that He can use you even more. All He asks from you is simple obedience in taking each step with Him. He doesn’t need you to be another Moses or another Paul. He just needs you to be yourself. That is, after all, the role you were born to play, and it’s the role you’ve been training for your whole life.

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Does God Have Just One Plan to Bless a Person?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #4)

Does God have just one plan, custom designed for each person, by which He can pour blessings into that person’s life? No, He doesn’t. If He did, most of us would never see many blessings.

Think about it. If God had just one such plan for your life, that would require you to never deviate from that plan if you wanted to enjoy His blessings. I’m talking about you always living where He wanted you to live, marrying who He wanted you to marry, remaining married to that person, having all the kids He wanted you to have, working the job He wanted you to work, attending the church He wanted you to attend, etc., etc., etc.

Marry the wrong person? Uh oh, you’ve missed the vein of the plan. Marry the right person but end up divorced? Sorry, there can be no blessings for you post divorce. Sell a house you shouldn’t sell? You’d better buy it back if you want God to keep blessing you. Quit a job God didn’t want you to quit? You must apologize to the company and hope they’ll rehire you. Like I said, if God only had just one plan by which He could pour blessings into an individual’s life, most of us would never see many blessings.

Moses was walking, talking, living proof of this. I don’t know what all God’s plan for him in Egypt entailed, but it surely didn’t include him impulsively murdering an Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:11-12). As a consequence of that murder, Pharaoh placed a death sentence upon Moses’ life (Exodus 2:15). That put Moses on the run, and his escape route took him eastward to a land called Midian (Exodus 2:15).

Midian was located in the Sinai Peninsula near the Gulf of Aquaba, and the Midianites were what we might think of as distant relatives of the Israelites. Midian, the father of the race, was a son of Abraham through Keturah, the woman Abraham married after the death of his wife Sarah (Genesis 25:1-2). Abraham, of course, was the father of the Israelites through Isaac, the son born to him through Sarah. Just prior to Abraham’s death, he gave Midian and all the rest of his offspring through Keturah gifts and sent them eastward to build their own lives (Genesis 25:1-6). The region in which Midian settled came to bear his name and his people became semi-nomadic shepherds who moved throughout that region. Interestingly, it was a group of Midianite traders who purchased Joseph from his brothers and took him to Egypt to be sold as a slave and begin not only his life there but ultimately the nation of Israel’s (Genesis 37:26-36).

Upon Moses’ arrival in Midian, he happened to come to a certain well. He sat down there to rest, and it wasn’t long before seven women came to the well to water their father’s flock (Exodus 2:15-16). As was typical at the wells of those days, trouble arose when some local roughneck shepherds came with their flocks and attempted to drive away the women (Exodus 2:17). Moses, to his credit, defended the overmatched women and helped them water their flock (Exodus 2:17). That showed that he hadn’t lost any of his manhood or his desire to correct injustice.

With their flock watered, the women left Moses at the well and returned to their camp (Exodus 2:18). Their father Reuel, who is also called Jethro (Exodus 3:1; 18:1), was a notable man who carried the title “the priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16). He was a leader in his local clan, perhaps even the chief leader. As for him being a priest, it’s possible that the Midianites practiced a religion that hearkened back to the one that Abraham had taught Midian centuries earlier. There might have been some spiritual gaps in that religion, but it does seem that Reuel/Jethro had an authentic knowledge of the true and living God (Exodus 18:1-12).

When Reuel/Jethro asked his daughters why they had gotten home so early from watering the flock, they told him the story of how an Egyptian had helped them (Exodus 2:18-19). The fact that they described Moses as an Egyptian rather than an Israelite (Hebrew) surely proves that he was still wearing Egyptian clothing. Also, it’s likely that his head was shaved in the manner that was typical of the Egyptians.

As a way of wanting to show his gratitude to the Egyptian — not to mention wanting to explore the possibility of the man becoming a husband to one of his daughters — Reuel/Jethro had the girls return to the well and invite the stranger to come home with them for dinner (Exodus 2:20). It only takes one verse for the Bible’s record to get Moses married to Zipporah, one of the daughters, and settled down with the family in Midian (Exodus 2:21). Similarly, it only takes one more verse to make him the father of a son named Gershom, a name that means “a stranger there” and was obviously Moses’ way of describing himself as a foreigner in Midian (Exodus 2:22). Although only one son is mentioned in the storyline at this time, we later learn that Moses also fathered a second son, Eliezer, through Zipporah (Exodus 18:1-6; 1 Chronicles 23:15; Acts 7:29). “Eliezer” means “The God of my father was my help” and gives God the credit for Moses being delivered from Pharaoh’s death sentence.

All told, Moses spent forty years in Midian, and the Bible offers no hint that he was unhappy or dissatisfied there (Acts 7:29-30). He became a valued member of that prominent family and worked shepherding his father-in-law’s flock (Exodus 3:1). From everything we can gather from the Bible’s account, Moses would have been fully content to spend the rest of his life in Midian and had no intentions of ever returning to Egypt. His wife, Zipporah, certainly had no plans for the couple and their two sons to ever go there, either.

God, however, did have those plans, and I’ll have more to say about that in future posts. But for now let’s not be so quick to rush Moses back to Egypt. Instead, let’s let him enjoy his forty years of blessing in Midian. Even more than that, let’s learn the lesson those forty years teach us.

And what is that lesson? It is this: God doesn’t have just one plan to bless a person. As He proved with Moses’ life in Midian, God knows how to adapt His blessings to fit our faults, failures, false starts, and foul ups. This adaptability and the blessings that we enjoy because of it are evidence of His grace in our lives. That’s why you should take a moment right now and thank God that He has made so many wonderful omelets out of the eggs you’ve broken regarding your life. You see, your life in Midian can be good, really good. All you have to do is submit that life to God and serve Him there in that different land.

Posted in Adversity, Aging, Backsliding, Change, Contentment, Disappointment, Divorce, Divorce & Remarriage, Family, God's Love, God's Work, Grace, Perseverance, Problems, Prosperity, Restoration, Series: "Questions From Israel's Exodus", Service, Thankfulness, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Moral Failure Disqualify a Person From God’s Service?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #3)

After Moses became the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, he spent the first forty years of his life riding high. Acts 7:22 says: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds” (N.K.J.V.). Two things stand out from that verse. First, Moses was a highly educated man. History evidences that the ancient Egyptians were the most scientifically advanced people on the face of the earth. Furthermore, the fact that Moses learned how to read and write would play an indispensable role in him ultimately writing the first five books of the Bible. Second, the fact that Moses was mighty in words and deeds means that he was a man of great achievement in ancient Egypt. Some students of the Bible even believe that he was in line to one day become Pharaoh.

What the Egyptians probably didn’t know was that Moses never forgot his Israelite roots. The Bible doesn’t tell us how much contact, if any, he continued to have with his parents (Amram and Jochebed), his older sister (Miriam), and his older brother (Aaron), but Acts 7:25 makes it clear that he knew that God was going to use him to deliver the Israelites. How did Moses know this? While it’s possible that God revealed this knowledge to him through some type of unrecorded divine encounter, it’s more likely that he acquired it through an ever-growing sense of destiny inside him. At any rate, however Moses knew, when he reached the age of forty he decided to act upon what he perceived to be his calling.

He got up one day and went out to see the Israelites as they toiled under their Egyptian taskmasters. The fact that he went out there at all surely shows that he had his kinsmen on his mind and in his heart. While he was on site that day he watched as an Egyptian taskmaster started inflicting a beating upon an Israelite whose work wasn’t satisfactory (Exodus 2:11). Such beatings were no doubt common. That day, however, Moses interjected himself into the situation. After looking around to make sure that no one was watching, he killed the Egyptian and buried the body in the sand (Exodus 2:12).

Rather than feel ashamed about what he had done, Moses felt comfortable enough to return to the scene of the crime the next day. It was then that he happened to catch two Israelites fighting with each other. He asked the one who was doing the hitting, “Why are you striking your companion?” (Exodus 2:13, N.K.J.V.). The striker shot back, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14, N.K.J.V.). That comeback struck fear into Moses as the ramifications of what he had done the day before began to dawn upon him. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that the only person who could have told anyone about him killing that taskmaster was the rescued Israelite. Even if that Israelite reported the news as a way to compliment Moses, things would have been better for Moses if the fellow had kept the story to himself.

It’s hard to say what all had been going through Moses’ mind when he had killed that Egyptian, but Acts 7:25 says that he supposed that his fellow Israelites would understand that God was going to deliver them through him. That also helps explain why he authoritatively rebuked the brawling Israelite the following day. As a grandson of Pharaoh, Moses was accustomed to giving orders and having people obey them. In his way of looking at things, he was the perfect choice to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians. However, his problem was that his fellow Israelites weren’t on the same page as he was. As the Acts 7:25 verse says, “…but they did not understand.”

Someone else who didn’t understand was Pharaoh. When word reached him that Moses had killed an Egyptian, he immediately sought Moses’ death (Exodus 2:15). I have to say that I find that at least a little bit odd. I mean, we are talking about his grandson here. Even if Pharaoh wasn’t emotionally attached to Moses, he should have been emotionally attached to his own daughter, who had raised Moses as her own son. How would she feel about her father having her adopted son put to death? Then again, if this was the same Pharaoh who had ordered the deaths of the Israelite male babies in chapter 1, he was a moral monster anyway.

Moses responded to becoming a wanted man by fleeing to the land of Midian (Exodus 2:15). He didn’t know it at the time, but he would end up settling down there, marrying a local girl, fathering two sons through her, and taking a job with his father-in-law. He wouldn’t see Egypt again for another forty years, and even then it wouldn’t be his idea to go back there.

But now let’s get to the question at hand: Does moral failure disqualify a person from God’s service? Tailoring the question specifically to Moses’ life, did him murdering that Egyptian disqualify him from being used by God to deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage? The answer is, no. Moses would have to spend the next four decades being humbled and retrained in Midian, but God could and would still use him to deliver the Israelites.

Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife. Jacob deceived his father Isaac and in so doing stole the patriarchal blessing that was supposed to be Esau’s. Joseph’s ten older brothers sold him into slavery. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed. Solomon plunged headlong into idolatry. Paul oversaw the persecution and martyrdom of Christians. Nevertheless, God still used all of these men mightily in His service. While it’s true that passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 teach that certain moral failures can disqualify a Christian from serving in the roles of pastor or deacon, those are only two of countless roles that Christians can perform in service to God.

You say, “But Russell, you don’t know what I’ve done.” You’re right, I don’t. I doubt, though, that it was any worse than MURDER, the deed that Moses did directly and David did indirectly. And yet God was still able to use each of them. Therefore, I feel confident in saying that He can and will still use you despite your past moral failings.

In case you haven’t heard, God is hard up for help. That means that He will put you to work somewhere doing something if you will let Him. He’s like that man who walked up to the counter to buy an airline ticket. The man threw his credit card on the counter and said, “Give me a ticket.” The worker asked, “To where?” The man answered, “To anywhere, I’ve got business all over.” Well, God has business all over, and He needs workers to do it. That’s why the question is never, can God use you? He can. The question is always, are you willing to let Him use you?

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Can God’s Plan Take a Long Time to Play Out?

(Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #2)

We expect God to do His work through angels, lightning bolts, and whirlwinds, but the fact is that He usually does it through people. More to the point, He oftentimes raises up just one person through whom He begins the work and accomplishes it. Typically, this one person becomes a litmus test for others. Those who follow God will get on board the train of what God is doing through the person, but those who (at best) refuse to get on board or who (at worst) attempt to derail the train set themselves against God.

The Israelites who lived in ancient Egypt needed God to do a work. The Egyptians had turned them into slaves, and the current Pharaoh had decreed that every newborn Israelite male must be thrown into the Nile river. The Israelites cried out for God to deliver them, but He didn’t send the deliverance overnight. First, He had to get the deliverer delivered. That deliverer would be Moses.

The name of Moses’ father was Amram, and the name of his mother was Jochebed (Exodus 6:20). Both were from Israel’s tribe of Levi. Moses was born not long after Pharaoh issued his decree, but Amram and Jochebed hid their baby boy for three months rather than obey the decree. That act itself was nothing less than a legal crime, but while it’s true that for the most part God wants His people to obey their governments (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), He sometimes blesses civil disobedience if the powers that be enact wicked laws and hand down unholy decrees (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; Daniel 3:1-25; 6:1-28). By the way, baby Moses had an older sister named Miriam and an older brother named Aaron. Aaron was three years older than him (Exodus 7:7) and had been born before Pharaoh’s decree had been instituted.

Eventually there came a time when Amram and Jochebed could no longer hide baby Moses. He was three months old when Jochebed placed him in a basket made from bulrushes (papyrus reeds) and sealed with asphalt and pitch to make it waterproof (Exodus 2:2-3). She then carefully positioned the basket in the Nile among the reeds that grew along the river’s edge. She was obeying Pharaoh’s decree in one sense, but in another sense she was giving the child the best chance she could to survive the river. Interestingly, the Hebrew word used to describe the basket is the same Hebrew word used to describe the ark that Noah built.

After placing the basket among the reeds, Jochebed walked away, but her daughter Miriam kept watch from afar to see what would become of Moses. It was at some point, probably not too long afterward, that Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe. She saw the strange sight of the basket sitting among the reeds, and out of curiosity she sent her female servants to fetch it. She had scarcely looked inside the basket when little Moses began to cry. His crying immediately melted her heart and she said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ (Israelites’) children” (Exodus 2:6). Israelite male babies were easy to recognize because they were marked with the mark of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-27).

Now it was time for Miriam to step forward and play her role. In an act of great boldness, this lowly slave girl approached Pharaoh’s daughter and asked, “Shall I go and find a Hebrew woman who can nurse this child for you?” (Exodus 2:7). Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Go.” Miriam, of course, knew just where to find such a woman. When Jochebed arrived at the scene, Pharaoh’s daughter told her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will pay you for doing it” (Exodus 2:9).

It isn’t difficult to theorize that Jochebed and Miriam knew that Pharaoh’s daughter would come to bathe at that particular spot on that particular day. Since Egyptian royalty had baths in their homes, the bathing she did at the sacred Nile could have been ritualized bathing done for religious purposes. Perhaps she even had a set schedule for such bathing. If Jochebed and Miriam did know that she would be there that day to find the baby in the basket, surely the plan all along was for Miriam to approach her and offer to find an Israelite woman to nurse the baby. Admittedly, the Bible doesn’t say that Jochebed and Miriam devised any such scheme, but, again, it really isn’t hard to make that case.

In ancient times, children were nursed until they were as much as three years old. This means that Amram, Jochebed, Miriam, and Aaron got to enjoy the new addition to their family for all that time. Once Moses was weened, Jochebed took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses was raised as nothing less than a grandson of Pharaoh. Actually, it was Jochebed who gave Moses his name.

In the Hebrew language the name “Moses” means “drawn out.” While some doubt that an Egyptian princess would have given her adopted son a Hebrew name, others suggest the possibility that it was Jochebed who helped the princess name the child. If this was indeed the case, it explains why Exodus 2:10 quotes the princess as saying that she named the child “Moses” because she drew him out of the water. Along the same lines, from God’s perspective of foreknowledge, it is also likely that the name can be accurately translated as “He Who Draws Out.” Thus, the name was also God’s hidden reference to the fact that Moses would be the man who would one day draw the Israelites out of Egypt.

It is along about here that we usually smile and think warm thoughts as we reflect upon Moses’ story. As a matter of fact, it is obligatory for every preacher to comment on how wonderful it was that God’s plan not only caused Moses’ life to be spared but also caused Jochebed to be paid for nursing him and getting to spend those early years with him. I trust you’ll forgive me, though, for pointing out all the precious time that elapsed while the Israelites were crying out each day for God to deliver them.

For starters, Jochebed carried Moses in her womb for nine months. Second, once he was born, she and Amram hid him for three months. Third, it took approximately three years for him to be weened and given to Pharaoh’s daughter to raise. Fourth, Moses spent the first forty years of his life living as Egyptian royalty, being schooled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and doing nothing about the plight of his fellow Israelites (Acts 7:21-23). Fifth, as we will learn in future posts, he spent an additional forty years in Midian before returning to Egypt to lead the Israelites.

Let’s imagine an Israelite father and mother who are forced to obey Pharaoh’s sadistic decree by casting their newborn male child into the Nile. They stand on the river bank and watch as their precious infant, who has his daddy’s eyes and his mother’s nose, sinks down into the water never to be seen or heard again. With tears in their eyes and a profound sadness in their hearts, they return to their dwelling and from that time forward call upon God each and every day to avenge their child’s death and deliver their people from the Egyptians. But days pass, years pass, and decades pass without anything changing in Egypt. It is as if the couples’ every prayer and every tear are ignored by God. In the end, they go to their graves mourning for their lost child and never get to see even the slightest inkling that God has a plan to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians.

I doubt that you’ve ever heard the story of Moses preached like that, have you? That’s because we’ve trained ourselves to race ahead to the good stuff, the happy ending. What we must realize, though, is that a whole bunch of real people suffered a whole bunch of real loss for a whole bunch of real years before God’s plan to put a stop to it all finally came to pass. Babies died, and broken parents were left to limp along in their faith as best they could for the remainder of their lives. And what was God doing while it was all happening? He was working out a long-term plan that would take at the absolute minimum eighty years to accomplish.

So, if the question is, “Can God’s plan take a long time to play out?” the answer is a resounding, “YES.” As a matter of fact, it can take so long to play out that some people who would be eligible to benefit from it can die off never getting to see it accomplish its end game. Is this a depressing reality? I certainly think so. It is, however, one that we need to come to grips with if we want to understand God better and walk with Him in a deeper fellowship. This is a lesson the Israelites had to learn, and it’s one that you and I would do well to learn today. God’s plans can take days, weeks, months, years, decades, and even centuries to play out. But He is always at work keeping those plans in motion, and in His timing they will all produce the results that He wants them to produce.

Posted in Adversity, Aging, Coming Judgment, Disappointment, Doubt, Faith, Faithfulness, God's Timing, God's Work, Justice, Patience, Persecution, Perseverance, Prayer Requests, Problems, Series: "Questions From Israel's Exodus", Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Does God Sometimes Let Us Endure Dark Days?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #1)

In Genesis 15:12-16, we read about a dream that Abraham had in which God declared that Abraham’s descendants would spend 400 years in a foreign land and be afflicted there through servitude to that land’s occupants. At the end of that prophesied era, though, God would judge that foreign nation and bring Abraham’s descendants back into Canaan, the land that God had already given to them. Even more than that, those descendants would bring great possessions with them out of that foreign land. Abraham would be long dead before all this took place, but that didn’t make the prophecy any less certain.

Sure enough, right on schedule in God’s plan, Abraham’s descendants (who at the time consisted of only the large family of Jacob) moved from Canaan to Egypt, the foreign land of the prophecy. However, they didn’t immediately become slaves there. Much to the contrary, Jacob’s son Joseph was reigning as Egypt’s second-in-command at the time of the move, and Joseph’s favor with Pharaoh ensured a very pleasant settling in the land for Jacob’s family. It wasn’t until Joseph, his eleven brothers, and that entire generation died off that things changed (Exodus 1:6). By then the family’s original number of 70 (1:5) had multiplied exceedingly to become a thriving populace. That’s how the family of Jacob became the nation of Israel (1:7).

The change in the Egyptians’ attitude toward the Israelites was precipitated by two factors. First, a new king (Pharaoh) arose in Egypt, and he was a man who either had no direct knowledge of all the good that Joseph had done for Egypt, or he at least had no appreciation of it (Exodus 1:8). Second, this new Pharaoh used the population explosion among the Israelites as a scare tactic to convince his fellow Egyptians that in the event of war the Israelites might side with an invading army (1:9).

With this reasoning in place, the new Pharaoh appointed taskmasters over the Israelites, and these taskmasters forced them into slave labor to build two new supply cities for Pharaoh (1:11). The Egyptians thought that all that backbreaking work would greatly curtail the population explosion that was taking place among the Israelites, but in fact the exact opposite happened as the Israelites multiplied all the more (1:12). The Egyptians’ response to this heightened fertility was to make the work even harder on the Israelites by forcing them not only to build more cities but also to work in Egypt’s fields (1:13-14).

Additionally, Pharaoh instituted a new method of controlling the Israelites’ burgeoning population as he commanded Israel’s midwives to kill each newborn male (1:15-16). To their credit, though, in a classic case of “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), the midwives disobeyed the order (1:18). This led Pharaoh to issue a new decree stating that every Israelite male baby must be thrown into the Nile river (1:22). Many students of the Bible have pointed out that Satan was working through this Pharaoh in an attempt to exterminate the Jewish race and in so doing keep Jesus from being born into the world through that race.

Obviously, at this point, the Israelites’ future looked incredibly bleak. They were in a land that was not their own, and they were literal slaves. The only comfort they could find in their circumstance was the comfort of their families, and now even those families had become tragedies as each day Israel’s newborn male babies were horrifically tossed into the Nile river where they would either drown or be eaten alive by the river’s crocodiles. Where was God in all this? Was He going to allow the Israelites to go extinct at the hands of a sadistic madman called Pharaoh?

No, He wasn’t. The Israelites probably didn’t realize it but the back half of that prophecy that God had spoken to Abraham was still hanging over them. Just as surely as they had moved to a foreign land, and just as surely as the occupants of that land had afflicted them with forced servitude, God was going to bring them out of that land with great possessions. The passing of all the centuries hadn’t lessened God’s memory or His intended plan one iota. His words of prophecy to Abraham were still running right on schedule.

Still, though, let’s not just gloss over the fact that the Israelites endured many, many dark days — days wherein they watched their male babies sink down into the depths of the Nile — while they waited on God to keep His word of deliverance to them. While I realize that this is subject matter that most Christians don’t like to hear, the fact that it hurts our ears rather than tickle them doesn’t make it any less true. Speaking from personal experience, I know that it’s information that we need to have regarding our understanding of God. If we don’t have it our trust in Him will take a serious hit anytime He delays His deliverance long enough for us to endure dark days.

Believe me, the God of the Bible doesn’t fit neatly into the box that so many preachers have built for Him today. Jesus, God the Son, couldn’t even get born into this world without all the male children who were two years old and under in Bethlehem and its surrounding districts being put to death by Herod the Great (Matthew 2:16-18). In the wake of that event, can you imagine some preacher going to those parents and saying to each of them, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”? I can just hear one of those fathers saying, “Really? I just watched Herod’s soldiers take my two-year-old son from my arms and kill him. So, you’ll forgive me if I’m not feeling particularly loved by God right now. And as for that wonderful plan for my life, He must have a different definition of ‘wonderful’ than I do.”

Does God sometime let us endure dark days? You bet He does. These days are exceedingly difficult and they test our faith in ways that days of prosperity can’t even begin to touch. But like that prophetic dream given to Abraham, God’s plan doesn’t call for us to be left endlessly in our dark days. Therefore, the key to spiritually navigating through such days is to keep your eyes on the deliverance that God has scheduled.

I don’t know what form that deliverance might take in your life, but I can tell you what form it took in the lives of the enslaved Israelites: the exodus. That exodus would officially end for them once they arrived on the northern shores of the Red Sea, but before we get them there in this series we have a good many more questions to ask and answer. That’s why each post in the series will be devoted to asking and answering one new question. The spiritual lessons we’ll glean from these answers will be some of the most relevant you’ll ever find, and so I hope that you’ll come along with me for this journey as we mine the exodus for much of the gold that it holds.

Posted in Adversity, Christ's Birth, Depression, Disappointment, Doubt, Faithfulness, God's Timing, God's Work, Human Life, Patience, Perseverance, Problems, Series: "Questions From Israel's Exodus", Slavery, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Barber & Jesus

A Christian man was getting a haircut and decided to witness to the barber. In an attempt to ease into a conversation about Jesus, the man asked the barber, “Do you believe in God?” Curtly, the barber answered, “No, I don’t.”

Now the Christian had a choice to make. He could drop the subject entirely or keep running with it at the possible expense of the barber exacting his revenge by way of the haircut. With his zeal for evangelism getting the better of him, he said to the barber, “If you wouldn’t mind telling me, why don’t you believe in God?” The barber said, “Oh, I don’t mind. All I have to do to know that God doesn’t exist is come to work each day. Barbers are like bartenders in that for some reason people want to tell us about their problems. Men sit in this chair all day long and tell me they hate their jobs, their marriages, and their lives in general. More than one man has even admitted to me that he has seriously considered committing suicide. So, if God existed, don’t you think He would do something about all that?”

The Christian was caught off guard by the barber’s seemingly logical reasoning, and the lack of a good comeback on his part created an awkward silence in the room. The barber took the silence to mean that he had won the debate, and so he cheerfully proceeded to give the Christian a fine haircut as the two of them filled in the silence with small talk about sports and the weather. Once the haircut was finished, the Christian paid the barber and sheepishly left the shop.

As the Christian stepped out onto the sidewalk, he prayed, asking God to give him an appropriate response to the barber’s atheism. Just then a hippie with unkept hair down to his shoulders walked past him. In a moment of divine inspiration, the Christian grabbed the hippie by the arm and walked him into the barber’s shop. Standing there with the shocked hippie, the Christian said to the barber, “You know what? Barbers don’t exist. If they did, this fellow wouldn’t have such long hair.” Agitated, the barber said, “Well, I exist, but I can’t cut someone’s hair who won’t come to me.” To that, the Christian replied, “Exactly! And God can’t help someone who won’t come to Him by coming to Jesus.”

“But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:40, N.K.J.V.)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37, N.K.J.V.)

Posted in Belief, Change, Evangelism, Salvation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Young Timothy & Genesis Chapter 1

The apostle Paul was Timothy’s spiritual mentor, but he didn’t claim to be the person who taught Timothy the scriptures. Instead, Paul attributed that accomplishment to Timothy’s mother, Eunice, with Eunice presumably getting help from her mother, Lois (2 Timothy 1:3-5). As Paul said to Timothy:

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15, N.K.J.V.)

In keeping with this idea of Eunice teaching the holy scriptures to little Timothy, let’s imagine her teaching him scripture’s opening chapter. She starts by telling him about Genesis 1:1, which says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (N.K.J.V.). “Timothy,” she begins, “these words simply mean that God is the Creator of all creation. There wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for God.” Timothy ponders the matter for a second and then nods his head in agreement and understanding.

Now it’s time for Genesis 1:2, which says: “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (N.K.J.V.). Eunice eases into her explanation of this verse by saying, “Timothy, these words mean that this earth as God originally created it didn’t look like it does now. There were no people on it, no trees, no rivers, no mountains, and no deserts. The earth didn’t have its form back then either, and it was completely covered in water. The Spirit of God hovered over those waters like a cloud can hover over us today, but the earth was totally dark.” Timothy’s agreement and understanding come slower this time, but after a few seconds of processing he again nods his head as if to say, “Okay, what happened next?”

Eunice then proceeds to walk her child through the rest of Genesis chapter 1 as God continues the creative process through which He gave us the earth that we know now. The information is a lot to process, and Timothy can’t fully grasp every single detail of it, but he is able to understand plenty enough to know that God created: the heavens, the earth, the daytime, the nighttime, the dry land, the seas, the grass, the herbs, the trees, the sun, the moon, the stars, the water creatures, the land creatures, and Adam and Eve. He’s also able to know that God did all that work in just six days, days that had an evening and a morning.

But now let’s imagine that Eunice, Lois, and young Timothy attend their local synagogue one Sabbath day. The guest speaker for that day is a rabbi they have never heard, and he presents a brand new interpretation of the opening chapter of Genesis. He calls this new interpretation “The Gap Theory.” According to this theory:

  • Isaiah 45:18 proves that God didn’t originally create the earth as formless, covered in darkness and water, and uninhabited.
  • There were creatures and a race of people who lived upon the earth of Genesis 1:1.
  • Satan’s rebellion against God was catastrophic enough to ruin a sizable amount of God’s pristine creation.
  • In particular, Satan’s rebellion completely ruined the earth because Satan was the angel that God had originally placed in charge of the earth.
  • There is a gap of time, no doubt millions or billions of years in length, between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.
  • The decimated earth from Genesis 1:1 laid for untold eons of time in the ruins described by Genesis 1:2.
  • Finally, after all those eons had passed, God set Himself to the task of restoring the earth to a livable state.
  • The process of how God did that restoring is recorded in Genesis 1:3-31.
  • We don’t know anything about what kind of creatures or people inhabited the earth of Genesis 1:1.
  • We can’t know what (if anything) became of those people in the afterlife.

Now I ask you, what would all of that new teaching have done to little Timothy’s simplistic understanding of Genesis chapter 1? For that matter, what would it have done to Eunice’s? Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that. Do you know why? It’s because no Jewish rabbi of Timothy’s day taught The Gap Theory. As a matter of fact, all the various strings of the theory weren’t pulled together into one unit until the 1800s. That’s when the likes of Thomas Chalmers started giving lectures on it and C.I. Scofield made it a central tenet of the study notes for his wildly popular Scofield Reference Bible.

You see, there are those who would have us believe that no one who lived prior to the 1800s correctly understood how Genesis chapter 1 should be interpreted. I mean, that is the obvious implication of holding to The Gap Theory, right? This, of course, stretches the bounds of believablity way past the point of credibility, and this alone should rule out The Gap Theory as being an acceptable interpretation of scripture. If you are really interested in this whole topic, I encourage you to read the eight posts in my series “How Old is the Earth?” (particularly the post entitled “The Gap Theory”), but in the meantime let’s just let Genesis chapter 1 read the way it reads and not force it to be filtered through any strange interpretations. After all, if such a simplistic interpretation was good enough for Eunice and Timothy, it ought to be good enough for us.

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What Two Monks Can Teach Us About Sin

There’s an old story that tells of a senior monk and a junior monk who were making their way from one monastery to another. It was a pleasant enough walk until they came to a certain crossing site at a river. Since the monks needed to get across the river, their only course of action was to wade the waters and hope that the current wasn’t swift enough to cause them any problems.

Just before the monks stepped into the water, a young woman approached the crossing site. She too needed to get to the other side, and she asked them if they would help her. The junior monk, having vowed to never touch a woman, was horrified at the thought. But the senior monk, who had taken the same vow, walked over to the woman, allowed her to climb onto his shoulders, and waded into the river. The junior monk followed close behind in shocked disbelief. Fortunately for all three, the river’s current was calm and they all made it safely to the other side. Once there, the monks went their way and the woman went her way.

Three hours passed as the monks continued in silence along their journey, and with each passing hour the turmoil inside the junior monk grew. Finally he reached a breaking point and blurted out to the senior monk, “How could you have allowed yourself to carry that woman on your shoulders? We’re not supposed to ever touch a woman.” In response, the senior monk said, “Brother, I sat her down on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

This story finds its roots in the “Zen wisdom” of Buddhism, and over the years various versions of the story have arisen. In some versions, the older monk pulls the naked, drowning woman from the river and gives her his robe. In other versions, the woman is standing at the river’s edge all dressed up in beautiful attire, not wanting to get her clothing wet. In other versions, the two monks talk a lot before they meet the woman at the river but hardly speak afterward, which prompts the older monk to ask the younger monk what he has done to offend him. The consistent details in all the versions are the older monk helping the woman at the river, the younger monk thinking less of him for doing so. and the older monk pointing out that it was the younger monk who was still carrying her long after the event.

The usual lesson that people take from the story is that most of us are carrying around old mental baggage that we need to set down if we are going to enjoy living in the present. While this is a perfectly appropriate application, I’d like to suggest an alternative one. My application goes like this: Even if an act isn’t a sin by God’s standards, it actually becomes a sin to you if you can’t do it with a clear conscience.

In the days of the Roman empire, many people worshiped idols and offered the choicest cuts of meat to those idols as acts of worship. Once the act of worship was completed, however, the leftover meat was sold at a greatly reduced price. We’re talking about high quality meat sold at discount prices. Some Christians believed that it wasn’t a sin to purchase this meat and eat it, but other Christians (particularly ones who had come out of backgrounds of idolatry) considered it sinful to eat such meat. As strange as all this might sound to our modern ears, it was a raging debate in the early churches, so much so that Paul had to weigh in with his verdict.

And what was Paul’s verdict? Actually, it was a bit tricky. In Romans 14:14-23 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, he taught that meat offered to powerless man-made idols didn’t carry any taint and could be eaten sinlessly as long as the Christian could eat it without feeling guilty. But if a Christian couldn’t help but feel guilty about eating the meat, that Christian shouldn’t eat it because he would be in sin to do so. As Paul said about the situation:

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23, N.K.J.V.)

Mind you that this teaching does not apply to deeds that are 100% sinful all the time. It only applies to those that take place in the gray areas where life and scripture don’t collide in a clear-cut way. Getting back to the story of the two monks, whereas the older monk could touch the woman and not sin because his conscience was clear in the matter, the younger monk’s conscience would have landed him in sin if he had tried to help her.

Learn this about your conscience: erroneous information causes it to misfire by rendering wrong assessments regarding sin. For example, if you haven’t heard a Paul explain that it’s okay to eat meat that has been offered to idols, you’ll never be able to eat such meat without feeling guilty and consequently sinning. On the other hand, if a Paul has explained to you that lifeless idols can’t affect meat one way or the other, you’ll be able to enjoy a delicious meal at a cheap price free from sin’s guilt. Likewise, if you’ve been told that it’s a mortal sin to touch a woman (even when you are trying to help her), you’ll never be able to touch a woman sinlessly. On the other hand, if someone has explained to you that it is alright on occasion to touch a woman, your conscience will allow you to help damsels in distress without crossing the line into sin. Do you understand? And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what two monks can teach us about sin.

Posted in Alcohol, Choices, Christian Liberty, Conscience, Decisions, Discernment, Faith, Personal Holiness, Sin | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

God Hears Our Cries

And the Angel of the Lord said to her: “Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has heard your affliction.” (Genesis 16:11, N.K.J.V.)

I chose Genesis 16:11 as a text for this post because that verse is the Bible’s first case of God hearing a cry for help. Surely God had heard such cries before Hagar lifted her voice to Him, but Genesis 16:11 gives us the Bible’s first specific mention of such a thing happening. Of course, it is far from the last mention.

For example, Exodus 3:7 says that God heard the cry of the Israelites while their Egyptian taskmasters were treating them cruelly. Nehemiah 9:9 says that God heard the cry of the Israelites when Pharaoh’s army had them pinned down on the shores of the Red Sea. Job 34:28 says that God hears the cry of the afflicted. Psalm 72:12 even makes the promise:

For He will deliver the needy when he cries, The poor also, and him who has no helper. (N.K.J.V.)

Notice that Psalm 72:12 promises that the needy will be delivered, not just that God will hear their cries. This is an important distinction to make because, let’s face it, God merely hearing a person’s cries doesn’t help much if He doesn’t do anything to address the person’s need. We want God to be omnipotent, not just compassionate.

I should also point out that there is a difference between calling out to God and crying out to Him. Crying is more intense than calling. We can (and should) call out to God every day, but we ought to reserve our crying out to Him for those times when our backs are truly up against the wall. Every parent knows the difference between a child’s call and a child’s cry. Crying comes from pain, either external or internal. That’s why a parent moves faster when a child is actually crying. God, being the Christian’s heavenly Father, acts the same way.

Perhaps you are right now experiencing some genuine pain, either external or internal. Perhaps you have a need that you just can’t meet. Perhaps you have, to quote the closing words of Psalm 72:12, “no helper.” What should you do? You should let God hear your cries. I’m talking about you flooding the throne room of heaven with the sound of you crying out for God to help you with your problem.

You say, “Oh, I don’t have to do that. God already knows all about my problem.” Yes, He does, but that doesn’t change what the Bible teaches about the value of you crying out to Him in your time of trouble. Again I go back to the illustration of the parent hearing a child’s cries as opposed to hearing a child’s calls. There is a tone, a certain tone, that will always bring a loving parent running to help a child. Trust me, I’ve raised two boys, and that tone has put me on the run more than once. And what I’m saying, dear friend, is that you praying with this tone just might be what God is waiting to hear before He starts running to meet your need. Oh, and by the way, when your pain gets intense enough, you won’t have to work up or fake this tone. It will come out of you as naturally as breathing. When you see me, you can ask me how I know that and I’ll be glad to tell you.

Posted in Adversity, Disappointment, God's Omnipotence, God's Provision, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment