Monday, June 26, 2017

READ IT! - Introduction to Exodus 25–31

Readings for this week:

Monday: Exodus 25
Tuesday: Exodus 26
Wednesday: Exodus 27
Thursday: Exodus 28
Friday: Exodus 29
Saturday: Exodus 30
Sunday: Exodus 31

Introduction to Exodus 25–31

God also gave specific instructions on how to build the Tabernacle… which is pretty much a great big tent in the center of the camp in which God’s Spirit came to dwell among his people.

The Israelites were already familiar with this design, because it followed the same pattern that the Egyptians used for their tents of worship. Except, instead of Pharaoh standing in the Holy of Holies as a god, Yahweh, the God of Israel, was there in His rightful place.

The Tabernacle was to be God’s tent among all of the tents of the Israelites, and God’s presence would dwell in this tent – in the midst of His people.

You see, God was trying to teach His people that he desires to live within us.

Here’s what the basic layout of the tabernacle looked like…

There were three sections: The Court, The Holy Place, and The Holy of Holies.
The front entrance led you into the Court where the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Bronze Basin for washing were kept.

There was then a door into the Holy Place where only the priests would enter with the Table of the Bread of Presence on the right reminding one of the manna from heaven and the Seven Branched Lampstand on the left reminding one of the burning bush.

Deeper in you come to the Altar of Incense, behind which is the veil leading to the Holy of Holies.

And within the Holy of Holies is where the Ark of the Covenant would be with the Presence of God resting between the cherubim.

And God said “I have filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, with skill to make everything I have commanded.” And Oholiab was his helper. And after these seven commands to build a house for God… the seventh day is declared a Sabbath of rest.

Monday, June 19, 2017

READ IT! - Introduction to Exodus 18-24

Readings for this week:

Monday: Exodus 18
Tuesday: Exodus 19
Wednesday: Exodus 20
Thursday: Exodus 21
Friday: Exodus 22
Saturday: Exodus 23
Sunday: Exodus 24

Introduction to Exodus 18-24

Chapter 18

So the Israelites went on their way towards Mount Sinai in the land of Midian. And Moses’ family came from Midian to visit Moses out in the desert. Moses told his father-in-law Jethro about everything that had happened in Egypt. And Jethro praised God and offered sacrifices.

The next day, Moses sat in the judge’s seat and all the people lined up to present their various cases and disputes to him. By the end of the day Moses was worn out. So Jethro showed Moses how to set up a proper system of courts and judges, saying, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

Chapter 19

Eventually, after three months of desert wandering, the Israelites finally came to the desert of Sinai and camped at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai is also known as Mount Horeb. We don’t know the location of Mount Sinai, but it is where God had first revealed himself to Moses.

And it is at Sinai that God meets with His people. And he makes a covenant with them. The Sinai Covenant added further to the Abrahamic Covenant. If Israel would be faithful to Him, God promised to make them into a “kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”

And he appeared on the mountain in a great cloud of smoke, with lightning. And the people were afraid and wanted Moses to be their intermediary. Moses told the people what God said, and the people agreed that they would be faithful to the covenant.

Chapter 20

And God began to lay down his law, starting with ten basic commands.

1. You shall have no other gods before me…
Or in other words… even you should come across another god, don’t have anything to do with them… I’m number one

2. You shall not make for yourself an idol…
Or in other words… don’t exchange the creator for the created

3. You shall not misuse the Name of the LORD your God…
Or in other words… don’t give God a bad name by either your words or your actions…

4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…

5. Honor your father and your mother…

6. You shall not murder.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet…or in other words… don’t long to live someone else’s life… to have their clothes, their marriage, their property.

According to the text, the Israelites only made it so far before telling Moses to make God stop talking to them, because they were scared to death of the voice of God. And so Moses became the man in the middle, delivering God’s mail to his people… a prophet.

And as we’ll soon find out… Moses had a lot of mail to deliver.

And so here begins what is known as the Law portion of the Old Testament, from where the Torah derives its name. This section is made up almost entirely of long lists of laws that Moses delivered from God to his people… many of which sound pretty weird.

So let’s dive in a take a look at what comes after the Ten Commandments.

First, we have laws about idols and altars. First, don’t make idols. Second, don’t make your altars really fancy… And third… don’t climb up altars on steps… because ain’t nobody want to see up your robe.

Chapter 21

Next we have laws about Hebrew servantswhich can be pretty much summed up in the command to: set them free after seven years.

Then we have laws about personal injuries such as “…take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Chapter 22

And then laws on protection of property like… If you steal someone’s sheep, you must pay them back four sheep…

Then laws of social responsibilitywhere God says: “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”

Chapter 23

Then we get to laws of justice and mercysuch as: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

And then we get to The Sabbath Law, where god commands his people to… farm the land for six years, and let it rest in the seventh yearand work for six days, and rest on the seventh day

We then get a little break in the text from all the laws and God begins to tell his people what is going to happen in the future...

He says:

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.”


“I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.”

Chapter 24

The people said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do", and they offered sacrifices. The LORD told Moses to stay on the mountain and he was there for forty days and nights.

Monday, June 12, 2017

READ IT! - Introduction to Exodus 11-17

Readings for this week:

Monday: Exodus 11
Tuesday: Exodus 12
Wednesday: Exodus 13
Thursday: Exodus 14
Friday: Exodus 15
Saturday: Exodus 16
Sunday: Exodus 17

Introduction to Exodus 11-17

Chapter 11

After sending nine plagues against Egypt – and with Pharaoh hardening his heart and refusing to let the Hebrews go – God put to death all of the first born sons of Egypt.

And Pharaoh himself (who was worshiped as a god), as well as Min, the god of reproduction, and Anubis, dog-headed god of embalming, were all rendered powerless.

Chapters 12-13

God told the Israelites to kill a lamb and mark their doors with its blood. And when the angel of death saw the blood on the doors, he would “pass over” the house. This event came to be known as the Passover, or Pesach.

The death of the lamb pointed back to God’s promise to Abraham, but it also pointed forward to the death of Christ. The New Testament refers to Christ as “our Passover lamb,” because He died in our place. Also, Jesus was crucified during the week of the Passover celebration.

Now God gave specific instructions on how the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover from year to year. And the various elements of the Passover meal serve as symbols of how God rescued, and continues to rescue, His people.

Some examples include:

The Maror (which is often made with horseradish) and is a bitter dish, reminding them of the bitterness of their hardships.

Also, the Charoseth (which is often made with raisins, honey, and nuts) and is a sweet dish, reminding them of the sweetness of God's salvation.

Pharaoh told Moses to immediately take his people out of Egypt. And they left that very night. Through these ten plagues, God had defeated every last one of the Egyptian gods, including Pharaoh. The Israelites left Egypt so quickly that they didn’t even have time for their bread to rise... which is how the tradition of eating Matzah (a Jewish flat bread) began. The Egyptians took off their jewelry and gave it to the Israelites as they were leaving. And Some Egyptians even joined with the Israelites and left with them.

Chapter 14

And The Israelites made camp by the Red Sea. But Pharaoh changed his mind again and he pursued them in order to kill them.

But God Himself fought against Pharaoh and He appeared as smoke and fire to give darkness to the Egyptians and light to the Hebrews. He also sends His "wind" to divide the Red Sea so the Israelites can cross over to safety. He then lures Pharaoh into this trap, only to crush Pharaoh and his army with the waters of chaos.

Chapter 15

Exodus 15 is a song attributed to Moses and Miriam after God had destroyed Pharaoh’s army. The text of this song is likely much older than the texts of the rest of the Exodus story. The ancient Israelite understanding of this event was that God was making Israel into a new creation. The Red Sea, like all seas in the Old Testament, serves as a symbol of chaos and death. When God parts the sea, He does so with His “wind” or “Spirit,” (Hebrew: Ru’ach) bringing order to chaos.

And God condemns all other gods, represented by Pharaoh and his army, to be lost forever in the chaos, but He brings his people through to the other side - out of death and into a new life.

God led the his people out of Egypt and through the desert. He wanted them in the desert. He could have taken them along the coastal route, but He chose instead to lead them through the desert in order to test them. The desert is a place of testing because in the desert you cannot make it unless you rely completely on God. God didn't just want to see what His people believed and knew in their hearts; He wanted to see that belief put into action in their lives.

He appeared as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. After traveling for two days, God led the Israelites to a well. However, the water was bitter and they couldn't drink it. And the Israelites became angry and began to whine and grumble against Moses. So God told Moses to put a stick in the well, and the water became sweet. The place was named “Marah,” which means “bitter” because the water was bitter, and because the Israelites had a bitter spirit. The Hebrew root of the word "Marah" also refers to "deliberate, defiant disobedience."

The Israelites failed their first test. They showed God what was in their hearts... and their hearts were bitter. But God still chose to provide for their needs anyway, and he showed them that they needed to rely on Him to heal them of their bitterness, just as he turned the bitter water sweet.

God then led them away from "Marah" and they came to a place called Elim where there were twelve wells and seventy palms.

Chapter 16

Later, the Israelites began to whine and grumble against Moses again. They wanted the food that they had back in Egypt. And so God provided food for them. He sent bread from heaven for them each morning. And every evening, he sent flocks of quail through the camp.

When the Israelites first saw the bread from heaven lying on the ground, they said, “What is it?” They named the bread “manna,” which means “What is it?” The text says that the manna looked like “thin flakes of frost” you could say God gave them Frosted Flakes every morning...

But God never gave them more than what they needed for the day – their “daily bread.” And when some of the Israelites tried to hoard the manna, it became infected with maggots. They were trying to rely on their own cleverness rather than on God's daily provision.

Chapter 17

God then led the Israelites to another desert where there was again no water and the people once again began to whine and grumble against Moses. Moses asked, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” And Moses complained about them to God, claiming they were about to stone him.

So God told him to go hit a rock with his staff. And When Moses did so, water began gushing forth from the rock and everyone had enough to drink. Moses called the place “Massah and Meribah,” which means “testing and quarreling.”

Later, The Amalekites attacked the Israelites. They were the first people to declare war on Israel. While Joshua led the Israelites in battle, Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill and watched. Every time Moses lifted his arms towards heaven, the Israelites were winning, and every time he let his hands drop, they were losing. And Moses lifted his arms towards heaven all day long, and when he became too exhausted, Aaron and Hur held his arms up for him.

Joshua defeated the Amalekites, but he didn't do it alone. He had Moses' help... and Moses didn't work alone either, he had the help of Aaron and Hur. And none of them would have succeeded if it weren't for the help of God.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

READ IT! - Exodus 10

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.’” Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.

Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”

Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he said. “But tell me who will be going.”

Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.”

Pharaoh said, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.”

So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”

Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”

But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.”

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

“Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”

Saturday, June 10, 2017

READ IT! - Exodus 9

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’”

The Lord set a time and said, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.” And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’”

Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt—on people and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both people and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the Lord, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”

Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.”

(The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley had headed and the flax was in bloom. The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed, because they ripen later.)

Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward the Lord; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land. When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.

Friday, June 9, 2017

READ IT! - Exodus 8

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials.’”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”

So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.”

Moses said to Pharaoh, “I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.”

“Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said.

Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God. The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.”

After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the Lord about the frogs he had brought on Pharaoh. And the Lord did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them. But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.” They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats. But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not.

Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.

“‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’”

And the Lord did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.”

But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.”

Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.”

Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.”

Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

READ IT! - Exodus 7

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. Then say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’”

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.”

Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.

But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said. Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart. And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the river.

Seven days passed after the Lord struck the Nile.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

READ IT! - Exodus 6

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”

God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.”

But Moses said to the Lord, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”

Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he commanded them to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.

These were the heads of their families:

The sons of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel were Hanok and Pallu, Hezron and Karmi. These were the clans of Reuben.

The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. These were the clans of Simeon.

These were the names of the sons of Levi according to their records: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Levi lived 137 years.

The sons of Gershon, by clans, were Libni and Shimei.

The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. Kohath lived 133 years.

The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi.

These were the clans of Levi according to their records.

Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.

The sons of Izhar were Korah, Nepheg and Zikri.

The sons of Uzziel were Mishael, Elzaphan and Sithri.

Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.

The sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans.

Eleazar son of Aaron married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas.

These were the heads of the Levite families, clan by clan.

It was this Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.” They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt—this same Moses and Aaron.

Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, he said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.”

But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Digging Deeper: The True Gospel Story

In the beginning… there was chaos. And from the chaos… order was created.

According to the ancients… God separated the earth from the heavens. And so was laid out the whole of creation. And God said, “let us make man in our image.” And after so doing, God rested.

But humanity rebels… and they decide they want to become gods themselves and to choose for themselves what is good and what is evil, symbolized in the eating of the forbidden fruit. And humanity is cut off from having access to the tree of life, and for their own protection, they become separated from God’s presence when they declared war on him… because God’s presence to them now has become like a dangerous fire rather than a protecting one.

In the fall of mankind lies a curse - the curse of death. Death is shown to be the final state of mankind because of sin. But life will continue through childbirth through Eve who is known as “the mother of the living.” Throughout most of the Old Testament it would seem that the common view of death is that it was the end of life, and very little is said about the possibility of life beyond the grave. Death has a hold over humanity and the end of every person is the grave. The hope of life after death or the hope of living life in victory over death is seen mostly in the reproduction of offspring. Life will continue through progeny, even as the fathers are “gathered to their people.”

When God curses the deceiver, the serpent, he says that He will put “enmity” or hatred between the serpent’s children and the children of the woman. Their children will always be at war with each other. But God also says in that while the serpent strikes the heel of the woman’s child, the child will at the same time crush the head of the serpent.

In Jewish tradition, the serpent came to represent the evil forces at work against the people of God. Throughout the Old Testament, serpent-imagery is used to describe the enemies of God’s people. Very often in these stories, the hero of the story, the descendant of the woman, kills the enemy of God by crushing his head or by some other head wound. Many of these Old Testament stories include a woman as the representative of the descendant of the first woman.

In Christian tradition, this came to be seen as a “protoevangelium,” which means “proto-gospel…” or “the Gospel in advance.” Christians saw this promise of God to mean that God would one day send his son Jesus to be the descendant of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, or the devil, once and for all.

As we read on, we hear about how God repents of the creation of man and comes down to wipe them off the face of the earth with a flood.

But one man, Noah, and his family are spared their lives after having been warned to build a great boat. They take with them two of every kind of animal, and when the flood waters finally recede, they send out a raven and a dove to find land.

And so mankind found favor in the eyes of God once again and order was restored from chaos.

When the flood story is looked at in the light of its development and association with such ancient texts as the Gilgamesh Epic, one may see how this story has its roots in a desire for immortality. While the Noah story is different from the Gilgamesh Epic, the desire to avoid death is still present. Even the picture of the ark is one of a type of box, or a coffin or sarcophagus. The language in the text is riddled with images of death and the promise of new life. The Ark story has often been interpreted in allegorical fashion, saying that the flood waters represent death and chaos and that Noah and all in the Ark are saved from death, even in a sort of picture of resurrection. Noah and his family emerge from the Ark after the flood as though emerging from a coffin. This type of language was carried on further by the early Christians who compared the flood waters to the waters of baptism, in which the followers of Christ become associated with Christ in his death and resurrection in both a spiritual and a physical sense. 

The people who would later become the nation of Israel would have known these ancient stories well…. However, something happened that caused these people to see themselves, the divine, and the world differently than they had before. Something led them to get up and leave their Mesopotamian home and become a new people in the land of Canaan.

They became devoted to a new God – a God in land of Canaan. Yet this new God revealed his character to be a bit different than many of the attributes ascribed to him by the other Canaanites.

The chief god of Canaan was known for demanding the blood of the first-born son… yet this new God instead offered to redeem the sons of the people who would become Israel. This new-found God demanded blood in payment for sin… but it would be his own blood.

In God’s covenant with Abraham, God commands Abraham to be perfect, also promising him land and descendants. They seal the covenant in blood as was the custom in ancient near eastern culture at the time, and even today in certain places. This is done by both covenantal partners walking through the blood of the dead animals. However, God is the only who passes between the halves of the animal carcasses in the form of smoke and in the form of fire, as he is often represented in scripture. Abraham, though, does not walk through the pool of blood. He would have been condemning himself had he done so, because both parties are required to live up to their ends of the agreement under penalty of death. Abraham and the descendants promised to him were to be perfect under penalty of death, and God was to provide land and descendants under penalty of death.

However, the text indicates that Abraham does not pass through the blood, but that God passes through as fire and as smoke. In doing this God is indicating that he will live up to his end of this covenant even if Abraham does not. God will be put to death if he does not fulfill his side of the covenant, and God will also be put to death if Abraham does not fulfill his side of the covenant. In this we begin to see the idea of the sacrificial system starting to play out. The animal sacrifices are a reminder to God of the promise he made to Abraham to not condemn his descendants to death because they have not lived up to perfection and that God has promised to carry the sentence of death as a result of sin in their place.

The idea of sacrifice and blood substitution as a way to avoid death caused by sin is carried further in Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. In this story God first asks Abraham to sacrifice his favored son, but then provides a ram as a substitution at the last second. In this way, the blood of the ram is used in the place of the blood of Isaac and he avoids death.

And so this new-found God was worshiped by these Mesopotamian nomads above all other gods of Canaan. Some of these Mesopotamians began to intermarry among the Canaanites… whereas others kept in contact with their relatives in the east. And new nations and peoples began to be created… Ishmaelites, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Amalekites… Israelites.

But along came famine and drought… and these new people in their new land heard of the prosperity of the Egyptians… and they went back and forth between Canaan and Egypt in order to survive. And they became wealthy off of the Egyptians…until eventually the people of Canaan took control over Egypt.

However, the Egyptians took back their kingdom and caused the Canaanites to work for them as slaves and mercenaries. And so the people who would form the nation of Israel became familiar with the ways of Egypt, and with the Egyptian gods… because the Egyptian gods were more powerful than the God of Canaan.

But everything changed when Moses came along. He claimed to have met the God of Canaan and that the God of Canaan had revealed his name to him – Yahweh – and Yahweh would free his people from the hands of the Egyptians and destroy their gods with plague and disaster. He would take back the land of Canaan from the Egyptians and establish the Israelite tribes as his people who would show the entire world the power of their God… and he would fulfill his promise to redeem their children.

God makes a marriage covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, turning them into a kingdom of priests to bring good news to the world. And the blood-sacrifice is seen throughout the Exodus story, especially in the story of the Passover. Also, we see death swallowing up the Egyptians in the Sea, but we see the Israelites emerging alive as a new people.

God led his people out of Egypt and back to Canaan… though they took a 40 year detour through the desert and rebelled against him constantly… even when they finally made it to the land… they were always turning their backs on him and worshiping other gods… gods of death.

Eventually, the tribe of Judah arose above all of the other tribes of Israel and the house of David was established as the ruling dynasty over Canaan. And God made a covenant with the house of David, promising that a king would arise from David’s line and rule over Israel forever.

However, The Davidic dynasty experienced a leadership crisis after the death of Solomon and the northern tribes split away from Judah to form their own kingdom.

During this time of monarchy, the prophets spoke mainly about how the people of Yahweh had turned away from Yahweh and had gone back to the primitive ideas of child-sacrifice to which the Canaanites who lived in the land before them held.

The tales of Elijah and Elisha began to be committed to writing during this time, along with other source material for future biblical books now lost to history –such the annals of the kings of Israel and Judah.

At this point in Israel’s history, people believed that when they died, they went to the place of the dead, a place called Sheol. It is not necessarily a bad place, but it is not happy. The psalmist says that once people die and go to Sheol, they cannot praise God. They cannot do anything because they are dead. However, a group of song-writers called The Sons of Korah began to wonder if Sheol was truly the final state of mankind. Their ancestor, Korah, had fallen into Sheol alive when the earth opened its mouth to swallow him up in his rebellion against Moses. But if someone could fall into Sheol alive… was it possible for Sheol to vomit them back up alive again? Was resurrection a possibility?

While it seems impossible, these psalmists imply that they will be “taken” out of Sheol by God just as Elijah and Enoch were “taken.” Psalm 139 asks if there is any place where God is not, and any place where one may flee from the presence of God. The conclusion is no, God is everywhere, even in the “depths of the earth” and “the far side of the sea” (vv.8-10). While death may overtake the follower of God, God will remain with them wherever they go.

This type of language is used in the prophetic literature as well. In the book of Jonah, the prophet travels to the far side of the sea to escape God and descends to the depths, but he finds that God is present even in these places. God even brings the prophet up from the depths of the grave. The prayer of Jonah from inside the fish says, “From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,/ and you listened to my cry” (2:1). Jonah continues, “The engulfing waters threatened me,/ the deep surrounded me;/ seaweed was wrapped around my head./ To the roots of the mountains I sank down;/ the earth beneath barred me in forever./ But you, LORD my God,/ brought my life up from the pit” (2:5-6). At the conclusion of Jonah’s prayer from inside the fish, the passage reads, “And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (2:10).

Here we see a picture of one who has fled from God to every place imaginable, even into the grave, only to find that God is in the grave and has the power to cause the grave to vomit him back out. The connection of the fish with the grave is further shown in that Jonah spends three days and three nights in its belly, the length of time before one is proclaimed legally dead in Jewish tradition. The prophetic story of Jonah is only a small part of a larger picture, one that indicates God’s ultimate power and victory over the grave. 

Now, Jonah preached to the Assyrians, and the impending destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians could have motivated scribes and priests to put their traditions in writing.

The prophet Isaiah lived in the south during the time that the north was being destroyed, and much of his Zionist theology is centered on these events.

He writes that the people of Israel were supposed to bring life to the earth, but that they failed. They instead produced stillborn children. He says, “We have not brought salvation to the earth,/ and the people of the world have not come to life.” He then says that God will not allow it to be this way forever. He will cause salvation to be brought to the earth. Isaiah uses a picture of resurrection to describe this act, saying, “But your dead will live, LORD;/ their bodies will rise—/ let those who dwell in the dust/ wake up and shout for joy—/ your dew is like the dew of the morning;/ the earth will give birth to her dead.” While Isaiah is speaking of salvation here, he describes it as resurrection, even saying that the bodies of the dead will rise.

In chapter 53 is seen the passage on the Suffering Servant. The man described in this passage appears to have been made a sacrifice for sins, harking back to the idea of sacrificial substitution as a way of avoiding death as a result of sin. This person is described as bearing the sin of all of Israel in his own body and being put to death for the sins of others, the people of Israel. This Servant dies in the place of Israel and is placed in the “grave” of “the wicked,” but his life appears to continue even after his death.

It is uncertain exactly what Isaiah had in mind, but he seems to be struggling with the sacrificial promise made by God to Abraham, which said that God would God be held accountable for the sins of Abraham’s children. God is seen as fulfilling his covenant through this suffering servant, and yet because of the apparent nature of this servant of God, and his association and identification with God portraying his innocence, it would seem that death cannot truly hold onto him forever. This leads one to conclude that the Suffering Servant must not remain dead forever, indicating a possible and even likely resurrection of the body from the dead. Isaiah concludes his book continuing his theme of salvation and saying that God will create a new heaven and a new earth and that in this new existence death will be a foreign thing and that in this place destruction will not be found.

Another major shift comes during the reign of Josiah. Josiah rediscovers the neglected book of the laws of Moses, the core of Deuteronomy, and brings about a religious revival to follow these laws in Judah.

Zephaniah preached a message of loyalty to Yahweh during the reign of Josiah, Nahum interprets the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC to demonstrate Yahweh’s control over history, and Habakkuk prophesied immediately before the first Babylonian deportation of 597 BC.

The destruction of Jerusalem, the desecration of the Temple of Yahweh, and the exile of the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon radically shook up the theology of the Bible.

No longer was the main emphasis on the blessing of God to his chosen faithful people. Much of the literature of this time is quite dark. Leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction, Jeremiah prophesied doom and gloom. After the exile, Ezekiel preached about how God’s people had played the whore with Egypt and others, and so now God had destroyed her…but would also destroy all the nations.

In Ezekiel, there is a passage that describes a valley of dry bones that come to life and are given flesh and a spirit. This passage should be read in light of the Exodus story, as Ezekiel describes Egypt taking its rightful place in Sheol, and life being given to Israel. Egypt will descend into the Netherworld, but Israel will rise. God breathing his spirit into bodies of flesh is also reminiscent of the creation story in Genesis 2 and shows that God remains Creator of life.

The descendants of the Isaiah clan had similar things to say and added them to the oracles of Isaiah. But these prophets also added an element of hope at the end, claiming that a messiah would arise to fulfill the promise of God’s redemption to the children of Israel… and not just Israel, but the entire world.

Many of the more depressing psalms were written during this time, asking God why he had abandoned them. The writers admit they have sinned, but they question God’s judgment, pointing out that God had destroyed them through the Babylonians – a people far worse than themselves.

The book of Lamentations was also composed, ending with the question, “Will God once again restore our hope, or has he given up all hope on us?

However, one of the darkest pieces of literature to be added to the Bible because of the exile is the book of Job. It is a philosophical debate on the nature of God and mankind, and why good people have to suffer. The main debater, Job, demands that God show himself and provide an explanation for pain, death, suffering, and injustice. In the end God does show himself, but does not give Job the answer he was looking for… instead telling him that he is incapable of beginning to understanding the answers to his questions.

Another great shift occurred when the Persian Empire under Cyrus took over the Babylonian empire. Cyrus issued a decree that the Jews could return to their own land and so many of them returned.

Hope had been restored… but the Jews were still recovering from an identity crisis and were beginning to experience another one. They didn’t know who they were anymore. They didn’t know how to worship their God... or how to interpret his promises anymore after he had let them be destroyed.

So along came people like Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and Ezra rebuilt Jerusalem’s theology. Ezra reintroduced the laws of Moses to the people, and many people think he also wrote the books of 1-2 Chronicles in order to retell the history of Israel from a new theological perspective.

Ezra followed the letter of the law so strictly that he even ordered Jewish men to divorce their foreign wives… so it’s not a big surprise that the book of Ruth became quite popular around this time, with one of the main points of this short story being that even Israel’s greatest king, David, was a descendant of a Jewish man and a Moabite woman.

The books of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were also written around this time. These prophets encouraged the people to stop dragging their feet and rebuild Yahweh’s temple so that things could get back to normal again.

With the rise of Alexander the Great and the Hellenization of the world came new interests. The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs began to increase in popularity as many of their themes resonated with aspects of Greek philosophy. The books of the Psalms were also nearing their completion at this time.

The Book of Daniel chronicles the different kingdoms that took over the world from the Babylonians, to the Persians, to the Greeks, and was completed during the reign of the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes over the Seleucid quarter of the empire. Antiochus defiled the temple in Jerusalem by setting up a statue to Zeus and sacrificing a very non-kosher pig there. Daniel’s book ends by predicting that a Messiah will arise to destroy the wicked kings of the earth and that after this all who have died in history will be raised to everlasting life.

The Maccabee brothers did rise up against their overlords and established an independent Jewish state that lasted for about a hundred years… until of course, the Romans showed up, and took control over most of the world. Many Jews were waiting in eager expectation for a messiah to come and save them from the Romans and to bring about the redemption God had promised to bring his people so long ago.

It is in this setting that Jesus is born… and Jesus would claim to be that messiah… but he claimed more than that… he said he was God in the flesh… the very God who led the ancestor of Israel – Abraham – out of Mesopotamia, the God who created order out of chaos, the God who revealed his name – Yahweh – to Moses, and the God who promised that he would pay for the sin of his people with his own blood and establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.

The history of Israel is then summed up with Jesus because Jesus is not only the one who will restore the Davidic dynasty in himself as the eternal king, but he will also fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant by becoming a blessing to all nations of the earth as Abraham’s seed.

And Jesus – God made human – comes in complete humility – he comes as a helpless infant – born out of wedlock to a teenage girl from a poor town – placed in a donkey’s feeding trough – in the shadow of the Roman Empire – worshiped only by shepherds, an old man and a woman, a few strange foreigners, and by his cousin John.

At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he goes to his home town of Nazareth and preaches in the synagogue from the book of Isaiah, claiming that Isaiah was talking about him when he said: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Jesus also identifies himself with the Son of Man from the book of Daniel as well as the Suffering Servant from the book of Isaiah.  In Jesus’ time, the passages in Daniel and Isaiah had come to be seen as referring to the coming of the Messiah in Israel’s history. Jesus seemed to agree with this conclusion, seeing himself fulfilling these roles.

However, Jesus’ view of himself also differed considerably from others in that many believed that when the Messiah would come, he would overthrow the Romans and Jesus did not intend to do this. He identified much more with the Suffering Servant who would carry the sins of his people upon himself. With this understanding, Jesus would go to the cross and die, dashing the hopes of many of his followers who did not understand the nature of the Suffering Servant and how to reconcile this picture with that of the all-powerful Son of Man. While this may have dashed the hopes of many, Jesus truly does fulfill the expectations of both the Suffering Servant and the Son of Man in both his death and his resurrection.

After Jesus is raised from the dead, he spends 40 days walking around in his own physical body teaching his followers about the kingdom of God. He then ascends to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. And all authority in heaven and on earth is given to him, and he in turn gives this power to his people. And he sends the Holy Spirit to come live inside of his people and fill them with life and grace and power to proclaim the Kingdom message and to drive out evil spirits and to heal people of diseases, just as Jesus had done himself. And Jesus tells his followers that they will do greater things than they had seen him do. And the message of the kingdom and of the resurrection and lordship of Jesus begins to spread throughout the world.

According to one of the early apostles, Paul, Christ is the first born from among the dead (Colossians 1:18), indicating that the rest of us will follow him in his resurrection. Paul writes in Romans, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5).

And if we are to be truly resurrected as Jesus was then we must be resurrected in our bodies, for that is how Jesus was resurrected. He had a physical body after his resurrection and so will we. However, Jesus’ resurrected body was not exactly the same as it had been before his death, so we may assume that our resurrected bodies will not be exactly the same as they were before our deaths. One of the differences is that Christ will not die again. His body cannot die. In the same way, our physical bodies will no longer be subject to death.

In the last book of the Bible, we see that through our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, humanity may once again eat from the “tree of life” and live forever with God. Like Ezekiel, John sees a vision of a new heaven and a new earth… reunited. A river flows from the temple and provides “healing for the nations.” And God will be with us fully.

This is the goal of all the history of God and humans – restored fellowship. And in the end, Jesus promises to return and restore all things. And he says, “I am coming soon.”