Isaiah 8: Because when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel–God-With-Us.
When the tiny nation Judah is under attack on two fronts Isaiah goes to King Ahaz with the promise that Judah will prevail and the attack will fail. Ahaz can hardly believe it. His nation is out manned and out gunned by the invaders. Isaiah tells him to ask for a sign, any sign, and it will be given him. However, Ahaz’s lack of faith is apparent when he off handedly says, “Oh, I won’t do that.” Isaiah tells him that the Lord’s displeased with his refusal to even bother asking for a sign, but that one will be given anyway. It’s here that we get into “virgin birth” talk. However, the promise isn’t for the Messiah to come, it has to do with current circumstances. Isaiah says that before a girl, now a virgin, can marry, conceive, and give birth (in other words, a poetic way of saying “nine months”) that those armies attacking Judah will be gone. To underscore the reason for this withdrawal the child could properly be named “Immanuel” or “God-With-Us.” Isaiah goes on to express God’s displeasure with Ahaz but, still, the bottom line remains. When all else is “said and done” “Immanuel” remains true, God is with us. When Christ is born this incident comes to mind and is played out in a very literal way. This time it is literally a virgin who gives birth, and this time it really is God who is with us. In these related incidents we see the dual nature of prophecy as there’s a very current application that’s echoed in an unimaginable way in a more distant future. We also see that, today, we can grasp this wonderful truth at a level Isaiah could hardly imagine: God is with us indeed.
Take Away: How wonderful to be reminded of Immanuel God-is-with-us.
Putting out a fleece
Judges 6: Let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece.
Here we are reading about Gideon and his fleece of wool. Actually, Gideon asks for, and receives, three signs from God. First, the angel of the Lord causes a fire to miraculously appear and consume his offering. Second, his fleece of wool gets wet from the dew while everything else stays dry. Third, the situation is reversed and the fleece stays dry while everything else gets wet from the dew. This is interesting reading, but it isn’t a lesson in how we’re supposed to deal with God. We’re to be people of faith, trusting in the Lord and learning to hear his voice. We’re not supposed to be sign-seekers and deal-makers. The star of this story isn’t Gideon, a near heathen who keeps getting signs from God confirming what he’s clearly already been told. The Star is God, who is patient even when Gideon keeps asking him to prove his own words. I’m thankful for a patient God who puts up with my shallowness even as he works to produce in me a more mature relationship with himself. Generally speaking though, I need to just do whatever it is God has made clear to me without “putting out a fleece.”
Take Away: Don’t press God’s patience – just obey in the first place.
Did I do that?
Exodus 7: The magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their incantations.
Have you ever wondered about the “miracle contest” that takes place between Moses and the sorcerers of Egypt? Moses throws his staff on the floor and it turns into a snake. Pharaoh summons his sorcerers and they do the same thing. This scenario is repeated when the plagues begin and the water of the Nile is turned to blood and then in the plague of the frogs. It’s only in the third plague that the sorcerers are stymied when they can’t produce gnats by their incantations. I know the Source of Moses’ miracle working ability but how do the sorcerers do it? This is one of those situations in which the Bible makes no effort to answer our question. All we’re told is what happens in this contest; not how it happens. I’ve always been inclined to think that they do it by sleight of hand. After all, it appears that they’re given advance warning each time. I can picture it now: “Hey, there’s a guy down at the river that’s turning water into blood, how can we do that?” Some experienced old faker says he has just the thing and off they go to duplicate Moses’ miracle. However, I’ve just been thinking of another explanation. Maybe they’re the most amazed people present when their efforts produce a miracle. You see, the Lord says he’s going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. What better way to do that than, when he sees an obvious God-caused miracle take place, he sees his own sorcerers duplicate it? I’m not sure of this understanding of events, but I’d sure like to have seen their faces when their staff’s became snakes.
Take Away: We’d better trust God because sometimes we can’t believe what we see with our own eyes.
The best thing to say to God
Exodus 4: God got angry with Moses.
Later on we’re told that Moses is the most humble man alive and knowing that I tend to cut him some slack when he keeps backing up on God’s call on his life. However, when I see the Lord getting angry in the face of all his objections I realize that humble or not, Moses is treading on thin ice with the Almighty. The Lord is appearing to Moses in a burning bush with the promise that, in spite of the king’s opposition that Moses will lead the people out of Egypt. Moses wants the Lord to give him a Name to use when he goes to the Hebrews and the King. The Lord obliges. Moses wants some kind of sign that will convince Pharaoh that it’s the Almighty he’s dealing with. The Lord gives him not one sign but three. Then Moses adds that he doesn’t want to actually do any of the talking and wants the Lord to name a spokesperson other than himself. At that point, he’s nearly found the end of God’s patience. The Lord promises Moses that he’ll give him the words to say and everything will be okay. When Moses persists in wanting someone else to do his talking for him, he nearly blows the whole deal with God. However, the Lord is merciful and tells Moses he’ll use his brother, Aaron, as spokesman. This, my friend, is a lesson in how not to deal with God. It’s not that exchanges with the Lord shouldn’t be open and honest. However, they should also be reverent and trusting. The best answer to God is just two words, “Yes, Lord.”
Take Away: The only reasonable response to the Almighty is: “yes.”