Tag Archives: Moses

Looking Backward and Forward

The last verses of the Old Testament have both a backward and forward orientation. Malachi instructs the reader to Remember the past and to Anticipate the future.

Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. (Malachi 4:4)

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents. (Malachi 4:5-6)

Malachi reminds us that God has worked in Israel’s past. Look back and remember how God worked at Mt. Horeb (Sinai). It calls us to remember how God has worked in our own past, to instruct and teach us.

I remember making a pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles, Washington, to remember the place where I first learned the Bible stories, acted in Christmas plays and sang the familiar carols. Christmas has so many specific memories for many of us. It can be simple nostalgia, but it can also become a deep spring of joy, light and love that calls us back to our spiritual roots. Where and when do you remember hearing the story of God’s statutes?

Yet Malachi also pushes into the future, that God is not simply an ancient figure of distant history, but a God who will act in our future. The prophet Malachi recycles the ancient prophet, Elijah, to describe the messenger who is coming. (Elijah had not “died” but was taken up into heaven on a chariot of fire, 2 Kings 2:11). The future return of Elijah will cause our hearts to turn to one another, to bring peace and harmony to God’s family. And God’s family is much larger than our own households; Jesus redefines family in the New Testament.

Looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother.”

Further, Jesus, the Son of God, turns the hearts of God’s children to their heavenly Papa. The future is so much brighter than our present reality. To what do you look forward in God’s glorious kingdom?

As we read scripture, we need to be mindful of how the past, the present and the future all intertwine.

Lord Jesus, be thou my vision, backwards and forwards.

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You Are In the Story

A big question for many Bible readers is “Where do I fit in?” The Bible feels like ancient history about long-dead people. In Deuteronomy chapter five, Moses spoke to this concern. The people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The generation that had experienced the exodus of Egypt had died; a new generation had been born during the wilderness journey. The new generation had heard the stories of the Exodus, Mt. Sinai (also called Mt. Horeb), the Ten Commandments, and Moses, but they did not directly experience these events. Or did they?

Moses spoke to the new generation regarding this:

The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. (At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. (Deut 5:2-7)

Please note that second sentence, Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. Moses made the audacious claim that the covenant at Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) was for us alive today. God’s covenant includes YOU and ME. This is not some ancient story, but an ongoing relationship with God.

This is critical reason for walking through the whole story of scripture. It is our story, our identity, our connection to God, the creator and savior. We are the ones who are in danger of making false gods. We are the ones who forget the gift of Sabbath or dishonor our parents. The Ten Commandments address us today. Do we have ears to hear?

Which stories in the Bible have become YOUR story? Which stories challenge or pull you in?

Lord Jesus, speak your Word that it may become my word of life.

Mountain Man Moses

I am convinced Moses must have been a trained mountain runner. Though raised on the plains of Egypt, he was constantly moving up and down mountains as if they had escalators. First he had to approach the burning bush on Mt. Sinai where he was commanded to take off his sandals because it was holy ground. God never commanded him to put them back on, so he was probably the first barefoot trail runner as well.

Then at the age of 80, he was commanded to clean his clothes and then to climb Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 19:18-20). Of course Moses’ clean clothes were immediately covered in soot and smoke from the mountain’s eruption, but I am sure Moses brought a dry-cleaning receipt in case God asked. As soon as he reached the top, even before he caught his breath or posed for pictures, the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through and sneek a peak at ME.” As if the volcanic eruptions, smoke and lightening were not a sufficient barrier.  Moses, between deep panting breaths, reminded God, “God, you already told them that before I started up here.” God responded, “Yes, but you forgot to bring Aaron and remind the people not to try and peek under the curtain.” Somehow, when Moses reached the bottom he forgot about Aaron or even a chisel, since God had to write on two tablets of stone with his own finger when Moses climbed back up (Exodus 31:18).  Maybe Aaron carried the family chisel.

Meanwhile the Israelites got bored (like middle schoolers in worship) and built a golden calf to worship. A golden calf was so much more manageable than a ferocious storm cloud hovering over your head. God sent Moses down to break up the party (Exodus 32:7).  Moses, hot and tired, broke the tablets; repeated change of altitude can do strange things to a person. Afterwards, Moses climbed back up to apologize (not sure if he had time to clean clothes before this climb).

Finally Moses biggest mountaineering challenge arrived. He was commanded to cut two tablets of stone and to bring them up to the top of Mt. Sinai. There is no mention of a North Face rucksack or REI backpack. This time Moses had to write on the tablets; he must have remembered his chisel (Exodus 34: 1, 28).

The stories of the Bible are filled with such strange, wonderful examples of exaggerated humor and insight. Sometime in our serious study, we miss the humor that also challenges us. Moses was the mediator, negotiating the God’s covenant with the people, a very difficult task yet that covenant is still in effect. I rejoice that Moses could climb the mountain and make it back down.

What stories in the Bible challenge your sense of humor as well as your life?

Lord Jesus, teach me to laugh as well as to learn.

What If They Voted?

The Exodus is the identifying story of the Old Testament. The Israelites had been living in Egypt for more than 400 years but their once privilege status had collapsed into brutal slavery. They cried out to God for rescue and God responded. God called Moses to confront Pharaoh and to lead the people back to their promised land in Palestine. God directed ten plagues to beat Pharaoh down and finally, after the death of his own son, Pharaoh released the Israelites from his service.

Pharaoh, however, quickly changed his mind. He and his army pursued the escapees. The Israelites were camped by the Red Sea when they spot Pharaoh’s mighty chariots approaching. Great fear consumed the Israelites as they cried out to Moses,

Was it because there were no grave in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:12).

I am guessing that if a vote was taken that day, the overwhelming majority of Israelites would have voted to return to Egypt. Their fear overruled their faith. The story of the Exodus would have been blown away on the desert winds. Has such fear attacked your heart?

No vote was taken. Instead Moses, God’s chosen leader, declared,

Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Exodus 14:13).

Song of Miriam by artist He Qi

Instead of a vote, God gave a promise through Moses. The people listen. God sent a strong east wind that drove back the chaotic sea and turned the water into dry land. The people crossed safely. When Pharaoh’s army tried to cross, “God tossed the Egyptians into the sea” (Exodus 14:27). Miriam sang a victory song.

Today our world may seem overwhelming and chaotic, instilling fear in us. We may fear financial or relational chaos; we may be too frightened to move forward in our life. Yet God’s promise stands today. The Lord will fight for you! God has not abandoned His people, only tested us to see if we will trust Him as God guides us into God’s  future.

How is fear holding you back from accomplishing God’s will?

Lord Jesus, your kingdom come, your will be done.

Grumbles and Grains

Shortly after I turned 50 a friend sent me an article written by Garrison Keillor. It was titled:

Stop Complaining.

When you hit 50, you have to stop complaining about getting old, the strangeness of it, the fascination, the horror, etc., etc. That was okay in your 30s and 40s, but now that you’re old, it’s time to shut up on the subject. You shouldn’t complain about aging for the simple reason that nobody gives a hoot. If you were to pay people to care, they might care a little bit for an hour or two, but you didn’t and they don’t. So learn to be cheerful about it. When people ask you how you are, tell them, “Absolutely great. Never better.” (from 50 Things to Do When You Turn 50) 

I thought about Garrison’s advice as I read parts of Exodus. The Israelites are set free from Egypt but they immediately start to complain and grumble. First they don’t have sufficient water to drink (Exodus 15:24). Then they don’t have enough food.

The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!” (Exodus 16:2-3).

We humans seem to have this wonderful ability to compare our present situation to some “idealized past” and think we have some right to complain about it. The Israelites practiced selective memory, remembering the sufficient food of Egypt, while forgetting the suffering and hard labor they experience as slaves. So they grumbled to Moses.

Does a grumbling spirit ever take hold in your mind?

The Lord God was quick to answer. The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.” (Exodus 16:4). God provided manna for the Israelites throughout their 40 year journey in the wilderness. Manna was a temporary solution until they arrived in the promised land which flowed with milk and honey. It was also a test by which to see if they could give up their complaining and trust in God’s provision.

Have you learned to stop complaining and to trust in God’s blessing?

Lord Jesus, give us this day our daily bread.

Send Someone Else!

The book of Exodus is rich in stories: Hebrew mid-wives protecting the newborn children, Moses drawn out of the Nile River by Pharaoh’s daughter, the cry of the Hebrew slaves for God’s mercy. The central story is the exodus itself as God battles Pharaoh for the freedom of the Hebrew slaves until Pharaoh’s army drowns in the Red Sea. What a spectacular victory, worthy of song and dance (Exodus 15:20-21).

Art Prints
Yet my favorite story is the call of Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3). God calls out of the bush to Moses by name. He tells Moses to remove his sandals because he stands on holy ground. God continues, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. I have heard the cries and know the suffering of my people in Egypt. I will bring them to a good land flowing with milk and honey. I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”

One can hear Moses cheering through the first part of God’s speech. “Yes, Lord, it’s about time you set your people free.” But then Moses’ cheering stops when he hears God’s plan includes him. Immediately Moses interjects, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Moses then puts forward five different complaints as to why he should not be the one. My favorite comes at the very end, “Oh my Lord, please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13).

I confess that I see myself in Moses’ response. Like Moses, I know that there is mistrust, injustice and need in the world. Like Moses, I know that God needs pioneers who will prepare the way of God and lead God’s people to freedom. Like Moses, I know God is pulling at my heart, mind and soul to be a leader. But like Moses, I too often say, “Lord, send someone else!

The good news in this story is that Moses, after complaining long and hard, went to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh. Moses caught fire and blazed with God’s Spirit. God is trustworthy to give us each the strength and courage to do his will.

To what adventures is God calling you?

Lord Jesus, give me ears to hear and feet to follow.

Questions about God and Prayer

At Resurrection, confirmation students complete sermon notes.  I enjoy reading the questions they write after the sermon is done.  Normally they offer just one, but this past Wednesday one student was truly inspired.  I had preached on Moses and his encounter with God at the burning bush in Exodus 3.   I started the sermon with the verses that come immediately prior:

Hebrew Slaves Cry Out

The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out.  Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God.  God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. Exodus 2:23ff

The cry of the Israelites created all kinds of questions for the student:

While God’s people were slaves, many died.  Why did He not save them? Why did he wait?  Were they the “bait”/sacrificed for us to grow closer to God? How do you know if God is listening? (you don’t feel he is there.)  Why did God “then” hear their “cries?”

Great questions!    

Though the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for generations (Exodus 1:8), this is the first record of their calling out to God for help.  They may have called out before, but we have no record of it.   God knew their struggle and was preparing a way out of Egypt through his preparation of Moses for leadership.   The cry of the people and God’s call for Moses to lead the people are linked here in Exodus.  God waited both for the people’s desire to leave and for the right leader to be ready.

As to the question of whether we know God is listening, the point is the Israelites did not know at first.   They cried out to God and God chose Moses, even though Moses has no desire to be God’s leader.   Moses was God’s answer to the Israelites cry for help, but they did not know it at first.  In fact, when Moses first arrives they reject him, Exodus 5:21!

The story demonstrates that God’s answers prayers, but not always in the time and way we choose.  We are called to trust God even as we wait.  It also demonstrates that we might become the answer to someone else’s prayers.

When was a time that you had to wait for God’s answer to your cries for help?