Failure to Be a Blessing

jonah in the whale Verduner altarpiece
This week we are reading passages that are written in a time when Israel has now come to possess the land that God has promised to them. God was faithful to Joshua and led the people to the land that was flowing with milk and honey. He was fulfilling the promise he had made to Abraham. But the people fail to be a blessing to others and fail to live in the way they were called to. In Amos we read how Israel is oppressing the poor and weak, treating them much like they were treated when they were slaves in Egypt. In Jonah we see the lengths Jonah would go in order not to go to his enemy, instead preferring Nineveh’s destruction.

Then when we look in the New Testament in Matthew 23, Jesus is criticizing the leaders of the Jews who similarly are not living as a blessing to those around.

This last Sunday I preached on Jonah, looking closely at his reluctance to even be a possible blessing to his enemy. The good news is that we have one who willingly came to his own enemies and sacrificed himself for us.

If you’re interested in reading the sermon, you can find it here.

The Difficulty of Moses Handing Leadership Over to Joshua

In this read through of Deuteronomy one thing that is standing out to me is Moses’ role in handing things over to Joshua. Here is a man who desperately wants to enter the promised land, but cannot. God tells him in Dt 3:28, “charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.”

History is full of bloody transitions of power. Successions do not always go over well. Turn to 1 Samuel and see the way that Saul takes the news that there will be another king. As remarkably peaceful as the transitions of power in the United States have been for over 200 years, there are still accounts of outgoing presidents (and staff) being less than gracious in the way they leave the White House for the next administration.

So this must be tough for Moses. He not only cannot go to the promised land, his job until then is to train the one who will go. But how important a job is that? It is hard to look beyond our own experiences and lifetime and look ahead to future generations. What are we doing to prepare the way for those who will come next? What world are we leaving to them? What ministries are we passing along? We like to be involved and be active, but there are times when we need to shift our focus on the future, rather than our our immediate circumstances.


If you are looking for a bit more introduction and recap as you read Deuteronomy, you may enjoy going back to this article from June 2012.

So much has already happened in the first few books of the Bible and it is very easy to get lost or confused with all the people, travel, city names, the people groups that end with -ites. Due to that, don’t hesitate to flip back through your Bible or use online tools to be reminded of who’s who.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

We have skipped over some books and about forty years and find ourselves reading the first chapters of Deuteronomy. But don’t think you’ll be in the dark. Moses here does a great job of recapping where they have been and what God has been up to. They left the mountain and wandered for forty years because of their lack of trust in God and now as they have endured God’s discipline, they stand at the threshold of the promised land. Israel is again given the opportunity to walk in faith into the land that God has prepared for them.

But not before a real hard look at themselves in the mirror, courtesy of Moses.

God and a stiff-necked people: Reflections on Exodus 33-34

God shows himself to Moses and to the people of Israel in incredible ways throughout the story of the Exodus. He protects Moses and raises him up to be a leader in Israel. God come to Moses and speaks to him in a burning bush and reveals his name. In ushering them out of captivity in Egypt, God shows his might pouring out 10 plagues on the land and he shows his mercy in sparing the children of Israel during the 10th plague. God provides a way for them in the Passover by the blood of a lamb. God then leads Israel out of Egypt, guiding them by the cloud of his presence. And if these acts weren’t enough, God then parts the Red Sea as pharaoh’s army advanced behind them. Truly this is a God with control over all things. He has great power and has used it to save his people and to be with them.

Unfortunately the chosen people of God cannot match his faithfulness and so quickly they are turning to those things which are not god. They reject God and turn to idols. This is sin and it offends God to the point that he says his presence can no longer be with the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Exodus 33:1–3

Why can’t God be with the Israelites? It is because of their sin. It is because they are sinful and God fears that he will destroy them because of it. He describes their issue by describing them as a “stiff-necked people.”

The idea that God’s presence will no longer be among the people is devastating to Moses. This has been a hope that the God who revealed himself as, I AM, would remain with Israel and guide her. Moses has enjoyed the immense blessing of being in the presence of God and wants this blessing for others.

So Moses intercedes with God. If your presence will not go with us, why did you bring us out of Egypt? How can we be your people if you are not with us? We don’t want your angel–we want you.

Moses then asks to see the glory of God and God passes before him. He hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and God’s goodness goes in front of him and God says in chapter 34:

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

Moses’ response is to bow in worship. And then he makes his final plea. He wants for the people what he just experienced himself, the presence of God. What argument can Moses make to get God to remain there among the people? What reason can he put forth for why God should make his dwelling in the midst of a sinful people? What does Moses say? In verse nine he says, "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

What sort of argument is this? Why had God already said he couldn’t be with the people, lest he consume them? Because they were stiff-necked. Now Moses is asking God to stay with them because they are stiff-necked. Does this make sense?

Let’s say there were two roommates, one of whom was moving out. Jack says to Jill, “Why are you leaving?” and Jill responds, “Because you’re filthy.” So Jack thinks this over and comes back and says, “Jill, I think you should reconsider.” “Why?” she replies. And his thoughtful argument is this, “Because I’m filthy.”

Would that make sense? His filthiness is why she’s leaving. So why would use that as a reason to stay? Do they have an unhealthy codependent relationship? Is Jack too dependent on Jill relying on her alone for his cleanliness, needing her to stay so he won’t be filthy?

While inappropriate for Jack to put that responsibility on another, it is entirely right for Moses to realize that only God can provide for Israel. Because they are stiff-necked they are sinful and that separates them from God. But in their sin, who can save? Could they ever save themselves? No. Therefore, Moses realizes that because they are stiff-necked they need God all the more. It is the problem and cause of separation, but it is also the cause of their great need. Israel is desperate for God to be with them because they know they are lost without him.

Graciously God says yes. He will remain with them, but we see throughout scripture what he does to make a way for our holy God to be with a sinful people. The end of Exodus tells us about the tabernacle and how that provides a way. We sometimes can read about it (or the temple) and see it as a barrier to being with God. Instead we should see in it how our God desires to be with us and for us and that is the way it could be accomplished.

It was the way for generations. The presence of God was seen as located among Israel. But now because of the work of Jesus Christ, the world is different. Read what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Those provisions of the old are fulfilled and nullified in him because on the cross Jesus took the sin that separated. He removed the barriers and brought us together with God. Now in Jesus Christ, we who are a stiff-necked people are blessed with his Spirit and the very presence of God is not confined to a tabernacle or a temple and it is not limited to the few priests. We who are in Christ all have the presence of God by his Spirit and we all are made into temples of the Holy Spirit.

Where once the world went to Jerusalem to seek the presence of God in the temple, now the temples go out from Jerusalem to the world.

The Bravery of the Midwives to Fear God and Protect Life

If you’re a pharaoh that means you’ve got a great deal of power and not that many checks on said power. If you tell someone to do something, they should do it.

In chapter one of Exodus the pharaoh has a message for the midwives who are there at the deliveries for the Hebrew women. He’s not happy that the people of Israel were increasing in number and he feared them. So his idea is to control their population.

“When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”

This is not a suggestion. It is an order. But what do the midwives do? While they almost certainly feared the pharaoh, they valued life and they feared God more. They did not do as they were commanded, instead allowing the male children to live. They deceive pharaoh to cover up their actions and it says in verse twenty that “God dealt well with the midwives.”

These women knew who was truly king in the land and they protected life even in the face of a pharaoh who could have ordered their execution.

Take Time to Review the First Two Weeks

We are now in our third week of The Bible in 10 Weeks reading plan. We have had our “Introductions” and a week on “The Promise of God” and are now at the Exodus.

My goal is that in these ten weeks we begin to see more clearly the big picture of the Bible, and that can’t happen if we read each week and forget about what came before. So take some time, especially since this week is a bit shorter than last, and ask yourself some good questions and do some review:

  • How would you describe creation?
  • What did Adam and Eve do?
  • What was God’s response?
  • Did God abandon them?
  • What plans does God have now?
  • To whom did God make his promise?
  • What was the promise?
  • Where did the promise take the people?
  • How did God begin to move his people into a foreign land?
  • How has God been at work in his people and accomplishing his plan?

This week we’ll pick up in Egypt and read what I believe will be both familiar and unfamiliar passages about Moses, the Exodus, and God’s ongoing interactions with his people.

Children of the Promise and Vehicles for God’s Blessing

We’ve had several reasons to reflect on history this week. I already mentioned the anniversary of the protests at Tiananmen Square and today is the 70th anniversary of the invasion at Normandy.

We’ve read through a great history of people like Abraham and Joseph, and one emphasis this week was to recognize that the history we read in Genesis is our history. We are children of Abraham because we are children of the promise by faith. So when we read of God’s promises to Israel, we stand under those promises, too.

But remember the promise God makes to Abraham. It is a promise for blessing, but God also notes that through Abraham’s family will all the families of the earth be blessed. If we are children of Abraham, we cannot merely celebrate that blessed status. We need to remember both that we receive a blessing as part of the promise, and we are to also be a blessing for all the world.

A Call to Preserve Our Own History on the 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen

Coming back into work today I heard a story on NPR about the 25th anniversary of the events surrounding Tiananmen Square. The host was interviewing a journalist in China who was showing the famous photo from the protests to students and it seemed that more had never seen the photo than those who had. The way it was worded during the radio segment was that in China, “amnesia is a state sponsored sport.”

China has not wanted people to know parts of its past and so it has worked hard to conceal and erase history. What is amazing is that this isn’t an event from centuries ago. It isn’t a matter of destroying the records. People are alive now who were alive then. But the past is still allowed to slip away.

While we weren’t alive when the events described in the Bible took place, they are still of the utmost importance to us. God has gone to great lengths to have it recorded, preserved, and passed on through generations so that we would receive the book we have today. It is our history and it is our story. He has given us the Bible for a reason. We can’t let it slip away. We need to commit ourselves to knowing the story God has given us and make sure we remain vigilant in continuing our lives that are now, amazingly, also a part of that story.

God is not done yet for he is still active. But it helps to know where we’ve been in order to know where we’re going.