‘Treasured possession’

Exodus 19:4-5a (NIV): ‘I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.’

Selwyn writes in today’s study: “We linger on this verse to further explore the issue we touched on yesterday, namely that it makes a great difference if the God who commands us is the same God who carries us. But that He does command us is a fact we must face squarely.

Obedience, of course, is almost a swear word these days. A wave of anti-authority feeling seems to be sweeping across the world. … Generally speaking, God-consciousness and neighbour-awareness are things of the past. 

It may be hard for many in this generation to see that willing obedience to the commands of God is the pathway to fulfilment and human wholeness – but it is.

We make the paradoxical point once more; freedom is found in servitude. The more we obey God’s commands the more free we shall be.

I used a lot of Selwyn’s material, because he makes an excellent and essential point: Jesus is indeed our Lord and God – full of love, mercy and compassion; but He also demands our full obedience – we must follow His teaching, it’s not an optional extra dimension of our faith.

In John 13:12-15 (NIV): ‘When Jesus had finished washing the disciples feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”‘

Matthew 7:21, 26-27, we hear Jesus say: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. … everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

John 5:13-14 (NIV): ‘The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”’

Final point – I think many would agree with me that Jesus commands us to stop sinning; yet, there is a general lethargy spreading through our churches, regarding our responsibility to keep all of God’s commandments. Really sad, because Jesus is returning to judge the living and the dead; and ‘something worse’ will happen to those who claim to follow Jesus, yet did not stop sinning.

Your thoughts?

On eagles’ wings

Exodus 19:1-4 (NIV): ‘On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on that very day – they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. … ” ‘

I found Selwyn’s words to be very well crafted: ” … Notice how God beautifully pictures the history of His relationship with Israel: ‘I carried you,‘ He says, ‘on eagles’ wings.’ … The phrase ‘carried on eagles’ wings has within it the music of God’s grace. Sometimes Christians contrast the Old Testament God of law with the New Testament God of grace. But that, I believe, is quite wrong. Israel was never intended to work her passage to covenant fellowship with God by doing good works. Rather as we shall see, the law was given to a people already delivered and brought into a relationship with God.”

As followers of Jesus, we should be aware that our God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament  – we, have been rescued from death, not because of our good works but by the grace of God. And, like the Israelites – we have been given commandments: to love God with our entire being; and, to love each other in the same way that He loves us.

We also know that it should not be a burden to do what Jesus has taught us, we hear Him say in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

As Selwyn says in his conclusion; ‘The true commands of God are not burdensome! They are what wings are to a bird.’

Every day – we are being carried on the wings of eagles – to the presence of God; what a fantastic feeling!

The art of delegation

Exodus 18:1-27 (NIV): ‘Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.

After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”

So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.

Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “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. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.’

This is a great study on ‘delegation’; it’s easy to understand the basic idea, but far too many people in church administration fail to implement effective delegation practices.

Selwyn writes: “Three things become clear from these verses. First, if we allocated our responsibilities according to our gifts we might more effectively build up God’s people. Second, if we talked more to God than to the people who come to see us about their problems we might be of greater help to them. Third, if we obeyed more closely the laws God has given us and stopped relying on the wisdom of others we might have less need for counsel.”

There are a number of other points, we can pick up from the text. Sometimes, we are so close to an issue we fail to see the obvious solution – in such situations, God may send someone we respect, to help us to identify the solution.

Another point, I believe, is that we are to encourage each other to grow in spiritual maturity. I think, we see this occurring when Moses ‘appoints people as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens’.

A person who is very capable, is appointed an official over thousands. Such a person can handle difficult problems and has the discernment to know when the very difficult cases should be referred to Moses. While those who show promise of becoming good judges, may start as a judge over ten people and handle the simple disputes.

It’s a case of correctly aligning maturity, ability and experience with the degree of difficult of the work. In undertaking this type of spiritual delegation – there first, must be a lot of prayer to ensure that Jesus is involved in guiding us – towards the right decisions.

One final observation – people who are seeking God, respond in worship when they hear about His saving works.

Your view?

Uplifted hands

Exodus 17:8-16 (NIV): ‘The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”

Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against (or ‘to’, the Hebrew is not clear on this aspect) the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” ‘

An interesting set of verses, here we see – in Selwyn’s words: “the mystery of the intermingling of divine activity and human endeavour which is part of the life of faith“. Notice too, that not only Moses was involved, he needed the assistance of Aaron and Hur to support his arms. Likewise, in our service for the Lord – often, we need the help of other people to complete our God given tasks. God’s holy nation is a community of believers not a collection of individuals.

I liked the following section, taken from today’s study: “As the Israelites saw it (the uplifted staff) they would have been reminded that it was a powerful symbol of God’s saving presence and that He was watching and caring for His people. Not for the last time did outstretched arms on a hill determine the outcome of a battle!

A further point, which Selwyn makes – is that important encounters with God should be remembered by His people, not only by those who were involved at the time but also by following generations.

God is only too aware that we are frail and can quickly forget His acts of mercy and compassion. He directs Moses to; ‘Write the details of this event on a scroll as something to be remembered.‘ It’s for our benefit that we commemorate the gracious acts of Jesus – it helps us to trust that He is always with us – helping us to face life’s battles.

Today, do we actually spend much time in celebrating what Jesus has done for us?

Water from the rock

Exodus 17:1-7 (NIV): ‘The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.”

So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah (Testing) and Meribah (Quarrelling) because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Another great study – Selwyn’s words on what it means to test the Lord, is an excellent summary: “The Israelites ask: ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ (v7). There is nothing wrong with this question in itself. After all, isn’t it a question each of us asks when we long for a sense of the Lord’s presence among us? But here the question is not just an innocent longing but a challenge to God to give them proof of His presence. It masks a demand that God prove Himself to be God. This is an attempt to force God’s hand so that He demonstrates His power at our insistence and on our terms. This is what the sin of testing God is all about.

“As for us,we need to learn the wisdom of walking by the Spirit in that balance of faith between the ‘now’ of what we already possess of God’s kingdom, and the ‘not-yet’ of all that still awaits us in the ‘promised land’ of His coming kingdom.” And, we have the promise of Jesus that He is with us – all the days of our life.

The first and last verses of Hebrews, inform us that our faith is based on the truth of Jesus’ eternal promises: Hebrews 11:1,39-40 (NIV): “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. … These (people of faith – found in the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Moses) were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” People of faith, who walk with the Spirit, do not need to ask the question: ‘Where is God?’  They believe, He is always with them!

I’d like to finish on the subject of testing God, these words from Matthew 4: 5-7 (NIV): ‘Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” ‘

Jesus most likely is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.‘ As you can see, the words refer back to the Israelites testing God in the desert, which we have looked at earlier in this study.

We can fall into the same area of sin, when we attempt to force God’s hand so that He demonstrates His power at our insistence and on our terms. We allow Satan to enter our hearts – when we say things, like; ‘If, God is good then He would do something to end the evil in this world.’ [That is, to do something that we could see, was being done by Him, to end injustice. The truth is that Jesus is limiting the evil done – we, just don’t see it.]  In a way, it’s making ourselves like God – that we would demand Him to exercise His power, and that’s the worst type of sin. Do you agree?

Living up to His name

Exodus 16:1-35 (NIV): ‘The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much – two omers for each person – and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”

So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you (Israelites) refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.

The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.” As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.’

A lot of verses, set for today’s study – but they are well worth the read. I think we can take away two main points; one is that God provides enough resources for ‘today’, not too much and not too little. As Selwyn writes: “The Israelites were to gather just what they needed for the day – no less and no more. There was to be no hoarded grace no stockpiled faith here (except on the day before the Sabbath). ‘ Give us today our daily bread’ is what we are told to ask in faith in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:11)”

Yet, my western culture has exactly the opposite attitude – ‘hoard as much as you can because you never know when you may need it’. We, in general, have lost the confidence in God’s provision, we are like the Israelites who failed to keep God’s instruction – just how often do you need to throw out food that has not been eaten and has started to spoil? It’s probably a correct observation that many people with large fridges often waste the most food – I could be wrong!

The second point is that we have the freedom not to follow our Lord’s instructions. Notice that in the above verses there were some people who decided to do what they wanted (collect more manna than they needed for the day, or to attempt to collect food on the Sabbath) – and, at the core of their decision was a lack of trust in the faithfulness of God. They had experienced a number of events, where God had intervened to ensure the well-being of His people – yet, they still wanted to fall-back onto their own frail and flawed judgement.

We all do it at different times – go an own way and then wonder why it hasn’t worked out as we planned. There are so many examples in Scripture that our way (when not aligned with God’s way) never works; yet we appear to be so full of pride that it often takes many failures before we turn our eyes towards Jesus, seeking His help.

What Selwyn asks is a good summary – ‘Can faith stand the strain of freedom?

After you reflect on your life’s decisions – what’s your answer to Selwyn’s question?

As God tested the Israelites to see if they would follow His instruction; so too, you will also be tested. Do you agree?

[I though it interesting that the word ‘manna’ means ‘What is it?‘ Obviously, the Israelites – including Moses – had not seen it before.]

The bitter made sweet

Exodus 15:22-27 (NIV): ‘Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.)

So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.’

As Selwyn says in today’s study: “It’s amazing how quickly our mood of praise can change and we return to the old pattern of complaint. Once again God works a miracle: the wood thrown into the water causes the rancid pool to become sweet. Will they – and we – ever learn to trust this God of grace? … The writer Terence Fretheim says that adult spirituality is put to the test in the wilderness ‘where evil spirits haunt and resources run out’. … What new aspects of God’s nature might we discover if we trusted and travelled with more faith?”

I found the verses for today to be great – here, we learn that if listen carefully to Jesus and follow His ways – then, He will not bring on us, any of the diseases that He used against the Egyptians. There are two types of disasters, which we experience in this life; one is the natural events that occur in a fallen, imperfect world; the second, are the direct consequences of our deliberate actions against the will of God. In the latter case, God does not leave us guessing – He will always let us know the reason for His judgements. Do you agree?

The last verse reflects the grace of Our Lord: ‘Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.’ The numbers ‘twelve’ and ‘seventy’ are symbolic; the meaning here is that God’s provision for His people, is ample and complete. It’s an example for us – that Jesus will always provide the spiritual food required for us to do His work. He is compassionate, kind, merciful and always loving – how should we respond to His gracious provision?

Today’s prayer is exceptional: “Father, as I read of the wood turning the bitter waters sweet, how can I not help but think of the cross? That ‘old rugged cross’ has touched the bitter waters of my life and turned everything sweet. I’m so very, very grateful. Amen.”