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God will go before you
Exodus 23: I won’t get rid of them all at once lest the land grow up in weeds and the wild animals take over.
The Lord promises his people that he’ll not only be with them but will also go before them. Before they ever arrive in Canaan the Lord will already be at work there, preparing the way for them. The inhabitants of that land will be visited by “Terror” and “Despair.” Just the thought of the coming Israelites will cause them to withdraw, yielding the land to them without a fight. However, the Lord also tells them that the withdrawal of these heathen people won’t happen all at once. If all human beings desert the land then the weeds and wild animals will take over and Canaan land won’t be as wonderful as the Lord wants it to be for his people. While I know it didn’t work out, I can’t help but imagine a very different picture from both the books of Joshua and Judges. As I consider this passage I find myself thinking of God’s work in my life. As one of God’s people I have some precious promises. He’s with me and he’ll make a way even when there is no way. However, that doesn’t mean all the battles are already won. Like the people of Israel, I’m to trust in the Lord and to move forward, believing that, by his grace, I can face whatever obstacles might arise. It would be nice if all the signal lights in my life were permanently on green even as I sit in the driveway, but it doesn’t work that way. I have to move out in trust and allow the Lord to help me through the rough areas one step at a time.
Take Away: God’s work in my life is that of unfolding grace, him making the way for me, one day at a time.
Exodus 16: It got wormy and smelled bad.
It doesn’t take long for the 600,000 people to go through their food supply. Now, they’re out in the wilderness and wondering where their next meal will come from. One of the methods used by the Lord to meet this need is the introduction of a unique food source. It appears like the morning dew, tasting like bread and honey. Each morning the people literally “pick up” their breakfast. Thus begins what will be an ongoing provision of the Lord that will continue for four decades. Except for the Sabbath, each morning begins with their going out to receive this blessing of the Lord. Right off some people try to hoard this heavenly bread, but that turns out to be a bad idea as day old manna gets wormy and stinks. This blessing from the Lord can’t be stored up. Instead, it has to be received anew each day. Centuries later Jesus will teach his followers to ask their Father for their “daily bread.” This reminds us that, even as it was for the Israelites, the Lord provides but that each day requires a renewed trust from us. I’m not against hearing folks share precious memories from days gone by, but as I watch these Israelites collecting their manna, I’m reminded that if yesterday’s blessing’s all I’ve got, well, I haven’t got much.
Take Away: God’s blessings are made new in our lives every day.
Exodus 16: Who are we in all this? You haven’t been complaining to us – you’ve been complaining to God!
It’s been two and a half months since the Red Sea parted and they passed through on dry ground. Two and a half months since they saw their enemies drown in the sea and since they celebrated their liberation. Now they’re out in the wilderness. It’s a difficult adjustment for the Israelites. No more comforts of home as they transition to becoming a nomadic culture. Change comes hard. As they long for the meat and bread they ate in Egypt God graciously responds through Moses and Aaron that he will provide for them. These leaders relay God’s message but they also include a word of warning concerning their complaining. This journey is not in their hands. Abraham has been dead for centuries, but they have yet to learn what he learned: the just shall live by faith. The problem with complaining is that it places us outside the life of faith. The God of the Red Sea is the God of the wilderness. He’s also the God of my everyday life. He expects me to place my faith in him in the days of miraculous victory and in the days of the wilderness as well.
Take Away: Complaining and faith are incompatible.
Head ‘em up – move ‘em out.
Exodus 14: Moses spoke to the people…“Stand firm and watch God do his work…God said to Moses: Order them to get moving.”
Behind them is the army of Egypt, moving in to destroy them. Before them is the Red Sea, impassable. What are they to do? Moses has great faith, “Stand still and see…” what God will do. That sounds good. They have pretty much stood still through the plagues and God took care of everything. Surely Moses is right and God will do it again. But God has other ideas. Even as the people of Israel had a part in the Passover by following God’s directions, now they have a part in this final victory over Egypt. The Almighty says, “Don’t stand still…move forward.” As they obey the command to move, God acts and deliverance comes. There are, indeed, times to “stand still.” To do otherwise is to attempt to be our own deliverers – something that’s bound to fail. At times like that we simply wait on the Lord. However, there are more often times to “get moving.” To do so is to act in faith that God is with us and that he has given us a role to play in our own salvation.
Take Away: Don’t be guilty of standing still when God is saying, “Move out.”
The last word
Exodus 2: Take this baby and nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.
Moses is not only born into slavery, he’s also condemned at birth. In a callous effort to stem the booming population growth of the Israelites Pharaoh has ordered the execution of all boys born to the slaves. When his mother can hide him no longer Moses is placed in a small basket that will float and hidden among the reeds along the river. His older sister Miriam is given the task of watching over him from a distance. Apparently, the idea is to hide the baby by day and then retrieve him at night. In a surprising twist that is characteristic of the Lord’s work, it’s Pharaoh’s own daughter who discovers the baby. Then, making things even more delightful, quick thinking Miriam offers to find a nanny for the baby. She goes directly to her mother who’s given the job. Instead of seeing her baby murdered, Moses’ mom is paid to raise her own son who’s now under the protection of the house of Pharaoh! I love stuff like this and, apparently, so does God. He loves taking impossible situations and turning them upside down. As I read this story today I’m reminded that God always has the last word even in the darkest of nights. In my life, it won’t be the writer of my obituary who’ll have the last word – it’ll be him.
Take Away: God has the last word even when everything seems to be going wrong.
Living between the promise and the blessing
Exodus 1: They made them miserable with hard labor.
Centuries earlier the Lord spoke to Abraham and made wonderful promises to him. Abraham’s descendants will number as the stars in the sky and they’ll have a land to call their own. When Jacob follows his son Joseph’s direction to relocate everyone to Egypt, the Lord promises to go with them and to bring them back to the Promised Land. Now, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph are all dead and while the promise of a multitude of descendants is being fulfilled, the people with the Promise are enslaved in Egypt. Generations are being born into slavery, living and dying having never known freedom. It occurs to me that being on either end of the process is the place to be. Living between the promise and the blessing isn’t nearly as much fun. At the beginning there are thrilling encounters with God; dramatic experiences filled with expectancy. At the end, of course, is the thrill of obtainment; God’s Word being made real. In the middle, though, is uncertainty; hanging in there when the circumstances tell us to surrender. The thing is that much of life is lived between the promise and the blessing. For instance, there have been many generations of Christians since Jesus promised to come back. They’ve lived their lives believing in that which remains unseen. The only prescription for dealing with living between the promise and the blessing is continued trust. Today, I’m reminded that the Lord has made certain promises to me and, even though I don’t yet see the blessing, I chose to trust in him as one who is always faithful. I build my life on that firm foundation here between the promise and the blessing.
Take Away: Most of life is lived between the promise and the blessing; it’s no wonder that God places such high value on faith.
Genesis 24: Go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac.
It’s not certain, but the servant given the task of getting a wife for Isaac is likely Eliezer, the servant named earlier by Abraham as his possible heir. It’s this good man that Abraham sends on a very important mission. The reason we aren’t absolutely certain that it’s Eliezer being spoken of in this passage is that he’s unnamed in the narrative. Even when he introduces himself to Rebekah’s family, he identifies himself as “the servant of Abraham.” I consider Eliezer to be one of the most admirable little-known people of the Bible. Here’s a man who’s dedicated to Abraham, who knows how to pray, and is entrusted with the most delicate of tasks. He humbly accepts the mission and then believes the Lord will help him accomplish it. I pray that the Lord will see me as a sort of Eliezer in his Kingdom. I’ll gladly let other more capable people have the starring roles in accomplishing the Lord’s purposes in this world if he’ll use me to quietly go about serving him in ways for which I’m best suited. Once in a while, I’ll feel especially honored if he trusts me to do some especially sensitive task.
Take away: It’s an honor to be used of God to do things that go largely unnoticed.
What God knows
Genesis 22: Now I know…
Jehovah gives Abraham the most difficult task possible. The old man is to follow the example of the pagans of the area and offer his son as a sacrifice. As unbelievable as it is Abraham never doubts that this is God’s command and acts in painful obedience. If the Lord doesn’t stop him when he does, well, we’d probably have another Old Testament resurrection story. It’s at this point that the Almighty says something that gives us an amazing insight into the attributes of God. Three words: “Now I know….” Those aren’t big words for me to say about myself – there are many “now I know” moments in my life. But for God to say it – wow! In these words I get a glimpse of what it means for God to have created human beings with genuinely free will. At the Creation he made us, at the same time, like himself and “other” than himself. At certain times and at some levels, even our Creator is unsure of what we’ll do. Understand this: God is never at a loss as to what to do in response to what we do. In this case, the Lord has a preferred action for Abraham and he comes through with flying colors. Still (and I know I can’t prove this) I’m convinced that the Lord has already considered what he will do and how he will do it if Abraham’s performance is somewhat less than stellar. In this case we have the very best result possible because Abraham fully cooperates with the Lord God.
Take away: Sometimes the best way to partner with God in what he’s doing in this world is to listen carefully to his voice and then act in obedience even if we don’t understand it all.
Genesis 21: The matter gave great pain to Abraham.
I was just trying to help.
My dad wasn’t the best teacher in the world. He was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known and he didn’t have time to teach when there was so much he needed to do. Often he’d let me try my hand at something, like loosening a bolt on a motor he was repairing but if I didn’t get it right off, he’d tell me to stand back so he could do it. Honestly, I wasn’t very good at that kind of stuff anyway and my “helping” could have been better described as “hindering.” I think the Lord feels that way about the tragic Abraham-Sarah-Hagar situation. The Lord had promised the couple a son and then, following Sarah’s suggestion, Abraham tried to “help” by taking advantage of defenseless Hagar. The result is, well, things are a mess. Abraham now has competing heirs. When Sarah, a senior-adult-over-protective mother, demands that Abraham send Hagar and his son Ishmael away, it breaks his heart. As he hesitates the Lord speaks to him. In their attempt to help God, Abraham and Sarah have greatly complicated matters. Now, the Lord tells Abraham to stand back and let him handle things. The result won’t be perfect, but the Lord will deal with the mess Abraham and Sarah have made. However, the solution’s going to bring continued pain to Abraham’s and Isaac’s descendants. Think of how different the world would have been had Abraham and Sarah waited on God and not tried to help. Sometimes, I need to just stand still and trust God to act and not try to help so much.
Take away: Sometimes the best way to partner with God in what he’s doing in this world is to get out of his way and let him work.
Genesis 8: I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done.
The flood abates and Noah, his family, and the animals depart the ark. Life on earth gets a fresh start. God’s promise that this will never be repeated is intended to be a source of comfort to us when disasters come our way. God caused the flood with the express purpose of purging the earth. The deaths are his doing, according to his plan. Now, the Giver of Life certainly has the authority to be the Taker of Life, so I have no argument at this point. However, the Almighty knows that unless he assures us otherwise every major disaster will cause people to fearfully look to heaven, wondering if this is the beginning of another purge. After all, it’s not as though we don’t deserve whatever God sends our way. In mercy the Lord promises that the Flood is a once-in-history event that will never be repeated. Because of this promise, we understand that other big disasters are simply the result of living in a world where bad things sometimes happen. The Lord doesn’t want human beings fearing that this is “another end of the world” in the face of every hurricane or volcano eruption or earthquake. Instead, he wants us to live in fellowship with him, trusting him to be with us even in the disasters of life.
Take away: Don’t treat every unwelcome event with a fresh round of self-doubt.