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Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Names of God - Yahweh-Rapha

Introduction
As we continue through our message series about the biblical names of God, we come today to the name Yahweh Rapha, which means “The Lord who heals.”  As we begin, I want to turn your thoughts to the idea of healing.  What does it mean to be healed? Is there something for which you need healing?

In our modern world, we tend to separate physical, spiritual, and mental healing.  Somehow, we’ve come to believe they are three separate spheres.  Even though we appreciate the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and soul, we still treat them as three separate and practically unrelated parts of a person’s life.  Doctors work primarily to heal the body with little or no concern for spiritual matters. Pastor’s focus on saving souls, but do little to address physical health.  And we still haven’t figured out mental health is inseparable from physical and spiritual health.

Modern people arrogantly believe we are better informed about everything than people in past ages.  However, the ancients were not ignorant of the interconnectedness of mental, spiritual, and physical healing.  In fact, they would not even describe them as interconnected because they would not even conceive of them as separate issues. What was true then is true now.  Healing—true healing—is encompasses every aspect of life--een extending beyon the individual person to the community and even creation.

We can sense the wholistic healing power of God in the Exodus story.  God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  He convinced Pharaoh to let God's people go free and God lead them to freedom through the Red Sea.  However, just because the Israelites were no longer in physical bondage doesn’t mean they were free in their own hearts and minds.  Their people had spent 400 years as slaves in Egypt.  One does not simply stop thinking like a slave overnight.  It requires healing and that healing may take generations to take full effect.


Exodus 15:22-26
22 
Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. 23 When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

24 Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. 25 So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.

It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

Jehovah-Rafa/Yahweh-Rafa
The Hebrew name of God is hidden in this passage.  I don’t know why they didn’t list it as they have in the previous passages we’ve read in this series.  To see the name, you have to look at the original Hebrew where God’s name in the text is Yahweh Rafa.  Some may pronounce it Jehovah, but most scholars agree Yahweh was the original pronunciation until the middle ages when people wanting to refrain from saying or writing God's proper name used the vowels from AdOnAI (the Hebrew word for Lord) with the Ancient Hebrew YHWH (or JHVH).  This produced Jehovah.  

Also, the second part of the name Rafa or Rapha can also be spelled/pronounced variously as Rafa, Rapha, Rophe, or Ropha.  The letters/sounds P and F are closely related and shift over time and in different regions in human language.  For instance in English we say "Father"; in Spanish they say "Padre"; and Germans say "Vater".  So Rafa could have been pronounced a variety of ways.

Ok, enough of the nerd stuff.  What does this have to do with healing?

Rafa means healing.  In the ancient, biblical sense it wasn’t just medical healing.  It was an all-encompassing, wholistic healing of every part of a person’s being.  And not just a personal healing, it was a healing for the whole community and even the whole world.  You may recall from the creation story in Genesis that all of creation was corrupted when Adam and Eve first sinned.  Our sin doesn't just effect us; it effects others and even creation.  Therefore, all creation needs healing.  Yahweh (the Existent One, the Great I Am) said, “I am the Lord who heals you.”

God wanted to heal the Israelites.  He wanted to change their thinking from slaves who lived with a scarcity mentality—just trying to survive day by day, hour by hour—to a people who trusted God completely and knew, in His love, they had nothing to fear.  He wanted them to know in their heart they were royalty and priests with the holy task of showing God to the whole world.

We see the Israelites' sickness in their spasmodic thinking.  Just three days after Yahweh miraculously parted the Red Sea and they walked across on dry land, the Israelites have lost faith and are complaining about the bitter water they’ve found at the oasis in Marah.  These people have a long road to find healing.

So God gave them many rules and traditions to guide them toward a wholistic healing where they finally accepted and trusted Yahweh as their creator and Lord.  These rules, which we call the Old Testament Law would also set Israel apart as a peculiar people who would represent God to the whole world—because God’s desire is that every nation and all people (even all of creation) would know Him and find healing and wholeness and deliverance from slavery to sin.

Yahweh provided for the physical needs of His people.  He showed Moses a piece of wood to throw into the bitter spring at Marah and it made the water good to drink.  Some translations say it was a tree, but the original Hebrew literally means a piece of wood.  It cold have been a branch or a stick; that makes more sense than throwing a tree into the water.  The wording is vague.  There was a very famous piece of wood Moses is known for carrying.  I like to think God told Moses to use his staff he to make the water of Marah sweet.  It was the same staff God turned into a snake to show Pharaoh God is more powerful than the Egyptian gods.  It was the same piece of wood Moses raised to part the Red Sea.  I I can imagine God answering Moses' cry for help about the bitter water by saying, “Hey, remember this?  Remember this simple piece of wood I used to do all those other miraculous things to save your skin?  Use it to make the water sweet!”  

How quickly people forget God's providence—even when we've been through something tremendous.  Traditions help us to remember and celebrate.  They can help us heal.  This past Sunday, Robert and Melissa Starling placed flowers in the sanctuary of my church.  It was a special occasion for their family.  You see, July 18th is the birthday of their son Harrison.  Harrison was born healthy but developed a virus within a couple of hours of birth and got terribly sick.  He did about a week later.  It was a terrible loss, as you can imagine.  However, God used that situation.  My wife was a nurse who took care of Harrison in the NICU.  And I hear that some friends of mine from Atlanta had a grandson in the NICU and wen to pray for hi and his family, and it turned out it was the same family my wife was caring for.  We prayed for healing, but it didn't come in the way we expected.  Harrison went Home to be with the Lord in Heaven.  And it took many years for Robert and Melissa to heal from losing their son (they are still healing).  But one way they have been healing is to place flowers on Harrison's grave every year on his birthday.  However, this year, the Starling family placed them in the sanctuary of my church because they joined as members of our church.  They were not attending church before Harrison's death.  But now, Melissa has transferred to my church and Robert has professed his faith in Jesus and been baptized along with their two sons who will be growing up learning about Jesus.  God has taken all these broken pieces and arranged them together into a beautiful mosaic of healing.  

Healing Isn’t Always Easy
Healing and growth aren’t always easy.  Sometimes they hurt.  Kelly and I listen to an amazing podcast by Radiolab about how a baby first starts to breathe.[i]

A baby spends 9 months inside the womb. 
Until the moment of birth, the baby gets all it’s blood through it’s umbilical cord.  So that useless scar everyone has on the belly that seems so useless, used to be one of the most important areas of your body.  Through it, the baby receives all the nurishment and oxygen it needs to live.  

Ababy can’t breathe because it’s living under water of the womb.  Their lungs are useless.
Then at the moment of birth, the lungs have to fire up and get to work.  There’s a door in the wall of the heart—between the left and right side of the heart.  In adults, the door is completely walled off, but it's open in unborn babies because the lungs aren’t working and the blood flows to the umbilical chord.  At the moment of birth, the door in the babies heart closes so the blood and oxygen stops flowing through their belly button and starts going through the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.  When a baby is born, it is wet and feels cold for the very first time in it’s life. It’s quite a shock to go from the perfect temperature of mother's womb to the cold light of day in the real world.  When that cold air hits the baby’s skin, the skin sends little signals to the baby’s breathing center in the nervous system and BOOM! the baby starts breathing and the door in the heart closes and the blood begins to flow to the lungs and the baby has a heart and respiratory system just like every other human being on earth.  It’s just one of a million of God’s amazing miracles that happens in our first moments of life, but as you can imagine, it’s incredibly shocking and painful for the baby.  Why do you think they come out crying?  Fortunately, that pain serves a purpose.  It’s vital.  Otherwise, we would all be flopping around 
like a fish out of water trying to breath through our belly buttons!

Healing and growth aren’t always easy.  Sometimes it’s very uncomfortable or just plain hurts.  I want you to know that you don’t go through that pain alone.  God goes through it with you.  Think about the Israelites wandering through the desert.  People sometimes think it was cruel for God to make them wander there for 40 years before entering the Promise Land.  Do you think they were going through that wilderness alone?  No.  God was right there with them.  He told them to build a tabernacle, a tent in which God would live with them.  God could have been in the glory of Heaven, but He chose to wander through the desert with a bunch of whiny, rebellious, sinful former slaves for 40 years.  He was with them.

When you are going through whatever painful suffering and healing you must face, remember God left the glory of Heaven to live among us in our broken world and even suffered the agony of dying on the cross in order to heal you and our whole world.  And God is with you in your pain now because He is Yahweh Rafa—the Lord who heals.  The healing of Yahweh is complete and wholistic.  It covers you from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.  It penetrates to the very center of your soul and extends out to your family, to your community, and to the whole world.  Think of it, when you get your life right with God through Jesus, it effects stars that are trillions of light years away.  Furthermore, it’s not a temporary healing—as all physical healing is in this life.  God’s healing is eternal and leads to eternal life where there will be no more sickness or sorrow or suffering or death.

Along the way, God may give you some rules and traditions to follow.  These are not meant to restrict us from enjoyment, but are merely the roadmap to the perfect place we want to be--the place of healing and wholeness.  God knows how we should live because He designed us and every part of creation.  God heals us on every level of our being when we follow His perfect plan for life through Hus Son, Jesus the Christ.

Yahweh Rafa says, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

Invitation
So, I want to i
nvite you to pray for God's healing—a healing that encompasses every aspect of your life and ultimately leads to eternal life with God as Lord.  

Are you weary from weary and carrying a heavy burden?
Do you need to forgive or be forgiven?
Pray to Yahweh-Rafa, the Lord who heals you.



[i] https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/breath

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Names of God - Yahweh

Introduction
My son, Gavin, will turn 23 in just a couple weeks.  He was the very first of my Mom’s grandchildren.  After we had a child, the dam broke for my siblings and the nieces and nephews just started coming one after another.  I’m not very good with names, so it started getting tough to keep up with everyone’s name.  My sister thought she was gonna have twins at one point.  I said, “That’s awesome!” (but I was thinking “How in the world am I gonna tell them apart and remember their names?”)  My sister said, “Yeah twins!  Isn’t that amazing?  And one will be a boy and one is a girl. But I’m not sure what to name them?”

Well, I’m a fixer and an innovator and I’m practical.  So I said, “I think you should call the girl Denise.”  “That’s a pretty name,” said my sister, “but what about the boy?  What should I name him?”  I said, “Denephew.” …Cause then it would be Deniece and Denephew…

That's not really a true story, but I thought it was a funny joke about names.  This summer, we are reviewing the names of God in Scripture.  God has many names that represent His multifaceted character.  And He has told us His names because God wants us to know Him and what He is like.  So through this series, I challenge you to expand your thinking about God.  God is infinite and it is not enough to know Him only in one way.  You should strive to know God better and understand His many qualities. So far, we have learned:

  • God is Elohim – A Triune God who is Three in One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • He is El Shaddai – the Almighty, All-Sufficient God who is everything you need
  • He is Abba Father – and you can relate to God like an infant to a loving daddy
  • Today, we learn God’s eternal name – Yahweh

Exodus 3:1-6
1
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Have you hear this story?  God asked Moses to go tell the Pharaoh of Egypt to let God's people go.  God was going to use Moses to lead the Hebrew's out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.

Exodus 3:13-15
13 
But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh,[e] the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.

This is my eternal name,
    my name to remember for all generations.

 

Yahweh - I AM WHO I AM
People in the ancient Middle East were very superstitious.  They believed you could manipulate a god if you knew its name.  In Egypt, where Moses grew up, they had many, many gods.  The Egyptians used their gods’ names and magical spells to manipulate nature.  But amidst a the thousands and thousands of Egyptian gods, which one was speaking to Moses from the burning bush?

 

There is only one real God.  All others are fakes or idols or demons.  God reveals His proper name to Moses, which shows He is eternal and He cannot be manipulated.  God reveals His name is Yahweh, and it’s a word that is hard to translate.  It means something like “I AM WHO I AM”.  You get the sense of the unchanging, eternal quality of God’s character.  He is who He is.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Notice that it is also present tense.  It is not, I WAS or I WILL BE.  It is I AM.  God is not some forgotten relic of the past or something we look forward to in the future.  God is RIGHT NOW.  And He is always RIGHT NOW. 

 

One thing that is hard for mortal to comprehend is that God created time.  If God created time then that means at some point time didn't exist.  We can’t imagine an existence without time.  The human mind tries to mark everything by what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  Sometimes, we are so consumed by our infatuation with time, we forget to live right now in the moment.  Many people spend years in counseling because of emotional scars from their childhood.  Their past keeps them from living a full life in the present.  Others are so filled with anxiety about what might happen in the feature they are unable to live fully in the present, right now.


God is not like that.  God is the great I AM.  He is always, RIGHT NOW.

 

Yahweh and Jehovah

Ancient Hebrew writing is weird.  First of all, they write backwards, from right to left.  Some scholars think this is because ancient Hebrew was written on clay tablets or chiseled into stone and it was easier to chisel from right to left.  They would hold the chisel in their left hand and a hammer in their right (because most people are right handed).  This made it easier to chisel sentences from right to left.  Many ancient languages that were primarily engraved on stone went from right to left. It wasn't until people started using paper and ink that it became more common to go from left to right (because going right to left would smear the ink on the paper).


Another weird thing is ancient Hebrew didn't have vowels, only consonants (vowels weren't invented until much later).  So a name like Bill, would be spelled BLL.  The vowel sounds were just assumed. So God's name Yahweh was spelled YHWH.  Nobody in the ancient world complained or thought it was dumb not to have vowels; they were just thrilled to be able to write down sounds for the first time.


Something else that complicates language is how the sounds of letter can change over time and also in different places.  Everyone in America knows how to pronounce the name JOHN (say it to yourself).  However, if you go to Germany, the same name spelled JOHN will be pronounced Yan, because J in Germany has a Y sound.  If you go to Mexico, it's pronounced Wan, because they give J a W sound.


Another letter sound that shifts arounds is W.  In America, you would say, "What do you want?"  But in Russia, it might be pronounced "Vat do you vant?"  This changing sound of letters has affected the way the name of God has been passed down through the ages and even produced an alternate name--Jehovah.


Starting around 300 BC (the time in between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament), Jew’s became very superstitious about using God’s name.[i]  The third of the Ten Commandments says, “Do not misuse the name of the Lord.” Or “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”  (Exodus 20:7).  A proper interpretation of this is that God's people who represent Him shouldn't misrepresent His character by their bad behavior.  Well, many Jews began to misinterpret the third commandment to believe they shouldn’t even say or write Yahweh at all (even though God said Yahweh was to be His name for all generations).  So, the Jews from 300 BC on began to substitute the Hebrew word for Lord (Adonai) instead of saying or writing Yahweh.  Others would intersperse the vowels from Adonai into the consonants for YHWH (because they had invented vowels by that point) rendering the word YaHoWaiH or JaHoVaH.  This is where we get the word Jehovah, which is common way to say God's name today.  The superstition about saying or writing God's name has persisted throughout the centuries right up until our time.  In most translations, you will find Yahweh translated as LORD, with the word in all capital letters,  Whenever you LORD written in all-caps in the Bible, it indicates the word is actually Yahweh.

 

Jesus is Yahweh
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  However, many people read the Bible and remark that the Old Testament seems much harsher than the New Testament.  Perhaps you have felt that way.  Sometimes people will say, “I like Jesus, but I don’t like the God of the Old Testament.  Jesus is so loving, but God is so vengeful in the Old Testament.” 

 

I can understand how some people could get the impression that Jesus is somehow different from Yahweh in the Old Testament.  However, that’s an oversimplification of the Bible that doesn’t really hold true.  If you study and understand the Bible, you will find mercy in grace in the Old Testament too. For instance, God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt before they were good people.  That's mercy and grace.  You also find judgment and vengeance in the New Testament.  Have you read Revelation?  It's full of God's vengeance and plagues and judgment.  We see "Old Testament" style vengeance and judgement in the New Testament book of Acts too.  Remember the time the Holy Spirit struck Annanias and Saphira dead on the spot for lying to Peter in the New Testament Book of Acts?  (Acts 5:1-11)   And there are many other places throughout the New Testament where we see the God of the New Testament acting just like He does in the Old Testament.  It's just that the New Testament primarily focuses on Yahweh invitation to humanity to be reconciled with God.  Also, understand than the New Testament is less than a quarter of the length of the Old Testament.  So to call the Old Testament harsh and the New Testament sweet is a na├»ve oversimplification.  

 

Jesus in the New Testament and Yahweh in the Old Testament are the same God.  In fact, Jesus even specifically called himself “I AM” (the translation of God’s name, Yahweh).  While arguing with the Jews about what it means to be a child of God and to follow God, Jesus said he was God.  In John 8:58, Jesus referred to himself with the ancient eternal name of God when he said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!”  Remember how I told you the Jews were extremely superstitious about God’s name?  Saying God’s name was enough to get a person stoned to death and the Jews in John 8 tried to stone Jesus to death.  However, because Jesus is Yahweh, the great I AM, He was able to disappear and escape unharmed.

 

So many people only see Jesus as their friend or their buddy.  Jesus is a friend for sinners, bu a true friend is someone who tells you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it.  Furthermore, Jesus is more than just your friend.  Jesus is the eternal, all knowing, all present, all powerful God of the universe.  We would be fools to forget it and only think of Jesus as our buddy.

 

The God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament are one in the same. There is no difference whatsoever in the character and actions of the Old Testament and New Testament God.  He is who He is.  Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can disregard it.  The Old Testament focuses more on the power, judgment, and sovereignty of God.  The New Testament focuses more on God’s reconciling mercy, love, and grace.  It’s not one or the other.  It’s both.  That is why Jesus preached throughout the Gospels, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) 

 

The Bad News you don’t want to hear because it makes you feel uncomfortable is that you have sinned, and the consequences of your sin is death and eternal punishment.  The Good News is Jesus/God loves you so much He paid for your sin by dying on the cross.  He took your place.  Therefore, you can repent and be saved.  However, you must repent and let God be the absolute Lord of our life or you are in eternal danger.

 

Conclusion
I want to do something strange as we close.  Right now, you are on Holy Ground in the presence of a strange and Holy God.  When Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said, “Take off your sandals for you are standing on holy ground…” 

 

So now, in the presence of Holy Yahweh in this Holy place, I invite you to take off your shoes…

 

Now, Bow your head and close your eyes.  Imagine that Yahweh is with you right now (because He is).  Feel the heat from the burning bush warm on your skin.  God is calling your name...  He says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of your ancestors.  I am the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament and the God of today.  I am Yahweh—the Great I AM.  I Am Who I Am.  I do not change.  You cannot control me.  You cannot make Me who You want me to be, but I can make you into the person you were designed to be.”

 

Now talk to Yahweh… or just listen to what He would say to you for a few moments…

 


Amen.



[i] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yahweh

Monday, November 30, 2020

Epochs of Israel - The Conquest of Canaan

Series Introduction
Today, we begin a new series for the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas.  We will consider the four Epochs of Israel.  An epoch is a period in history, typically one marked by notable events or characteristics. 

The Bible is the great story of God’s rescue plan for humanity.  It is marked by many great epochs.  There is the epoch of creation and the fall of humanity when Adam and Eve sinned against God.  There is the dark epoch that followed as humanity descended so far into sin that the most

merciful thing God could do was destroy the whole earth with a flood and start over with Noah.  Then there is the epoch of God’s covenant with Abraham, where God chooses one man’s family to represent Him to the whole world. 

Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, migrated to Egypt where they were enslaved.  God rescued them in the Epoch of the Exodus.  At my church, we used this responsive reading to review that Epoch  and set up the topic of this blog.  

Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! He rescued to Israelite slaves from Egyptian Empire. 

People:  Through 10 plagues, He judged Egypt’s gods and proved they were nothing. 

Pastor:  Moses led the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea,

People:  But the Egyptian army came to destroy them.  The Lord rescued Israel again.

Pastor:  He parted the sea so Israel could walk through on dry ground,

People:  But the Egyptian army drowned in the sea.

 

Pastor:  God led Moses and the Israelites to Mount Sinai to make a sacred covenant.

People:  The Lord gave Israel the 10 commandments and the Law.

Pastor:  If they would trust God and be faithful to obey to His Law,

People:  The Lord would protect them, prosper them, and give them peace.

Pastor:  But if Israel was unfaithful,

People:  The Lord would punish them with plagues and war and defeat.

 

Pastor:  The Lord promised to lead Israel into a land flowing with milk and honey,

People:  But Israel still did not trust the Lord to do it. They wanted to go back to Egypt and be slaves again.

Pastor:  So God made them wander in the dessert until that unfaithful generation passed away.

People:  Only Joshua and Caleb were left because they were the only ones who believed the Lord.

Pastor:  Then the time came for the Lord to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

People:  Joshua and Calab and the people of Israel were ready to obey the Lord.

 

All:  And so the first Epoch of Israel begins—The Epoch of Conquest.

The rag tag rabble of slaves that left Egypt has been transformed into an army of God’s faithful, harden by 40 years of nomadic dessert living.  They are thirsty to finally take possession of the Promised Land and begin their life as God’s Kingdom on Earth.  But to do it, the Israelites must first conquer the Canaanites who live in the land.  Moses is dead; so God appoints Joshua as the new commander and chief.  (By the way, Joshua is the same name as Jesus…)  And in Joshua 1:6-9, we read God’s instructions to Joshua.  They will be the war cry of the entire book and the entire epoch of the conquest of Canaan.

Joshua 1:6-9
6“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Conquest of Canaan
Canaan was a land full of cruelty and debauchery that had persisted for hundreds of years.  You can be sure, God gave the Canaanites every opportunity possible to repent and be saved.  However, there comes a moment when your time runs out.  That time had come for the Canaanites.

The Canaanites lived in fortress cities, like Jericho, surround by impregnable walls.  Israelite spies had described them as giants who could not be defeated.  But if the Lord can defeat the mighty Egyptian Empire, He can defeat the Canaanites.  And that’s just what God does in the book of Joshua.  

In battle after battle, the Lord God of Israel defeats every king in Canaan.  No one can stand against Him.  But here’s the thing you may miss if you aren’t careful.  The victory in battle is never won by the Israelite army.  It is God who is doing the fighting.  As it says in Joshua 23:10, “Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as he has promised.”

Perhaps the best example of the Lord fighting from the Israel is the famous Battle of Jericho.  God told the Israelites to march around the city every day for seven days.  Then, on the seventh day, God told His people to march around the city seven times.  Then the were to blow trumpets and shout.  And when they did, the walls of the city came crashing down.  Now this is a ludicrous battle plan.  No military strategist in their right mind would suggest this as a viable plan, but it worked!  And the point is, this is God's work, not the soldiers.  Incidentally, their is archeological evidence in Jericho of an ancient city from around the time Joshua would have been there that shows a walled city where the walls have collapsed outward.  If this is the same city, it would be string evidence for a supernatural defeat of a walled city (walls don't collapse outward if they are being sieged by an army on the outside of the city).

It is God who does the fighting.  The Israelites just have to be faithful and trust God and be obedient.  Whenever they are faithful and obedient, God wins the victory for the Israelites.  Whenever the Israelites lose faith and are disobedient, they are defeated.

Three Important Lessons
There are three lessons we can learn from Israel’s conquest of Canaan.  We learn the first lesson from the sad demise of the Canaanites.  Judgement will come.  God is patient when we sin.  The Canaanites lived in sin for hundreds of years.  In Genesis when Abraham visited Canaan, we read some of the terrible things they did.  In addition to rejecting the one True God for idols, the Canaanites raped and murdered.  They were sexually and morally depraved.  They sacrificed their children to idols.  I was watching a documentary last week about the Canaanites that explained how their kings would defeat and capture a city and skin the defeated people alive and hang their corpses up for everyone to see.  And all this evil persisted in Canaan for well over 600 years until God finally said, enough is enough.  At just that time, the Israelites showed up at the door of Canaan to execute God’s judgment. 

If you are clinging to your sin, refusing to surrender to God repent, you need to understand: time is running out.  God is patient, but He will not delay judgment forever.  You will have to face God’s judgment one day soon.  Jesus is either going to come back for the whole world all at once or he is going to come for you as an individual when you take your last breath.  What will you say when you stand before Him face to face? How will you answer for your sin? 

When Jesus came the first time, he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Paraphrased from Mark 1:15)  And Romans 8:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”  The believing that Romans mentions is not mere intellectual assent.  If a person really believes Jesus is Lord and He is coming again. they will act accordingly and it will result repentance and righteous living.  Time is running out.  Repent today.

The second lesson from the conquest is that God fights for those who are faithful and obedient.  When we trust God through Jesus Christ we are in a new covenant with God.  He becomes our Lord  and we become His people.  He promises to fight for us.  As Isaiah 54:17 promises, “No weapon that is formed against you will succeed; and you will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord…”  What a great promise we have in the Lord. 

Therefore, the third lesson for us today is be strong and courageous.  The conquest was a test for the Israelites.  God did the fighting, but the Israelites had to step onto the battlefield.  There are tests in our lives too.  God does the fighting, but we still must trust Him enough to show up for the fight.  We must step out on the battlefield.  We must be vulnerable and trust He will be our strength and shield.

Conclusion
What battles lie between you and the blessing God has for you? 

One battle may be fear.  You may be afraid to repent.  You may worry, "What will people think of me if I decide to follow a God you can't even see."  The Israelites were accused of something similar.  Everyone around them worshipped idols.  Now, today we would thin it silly to worship a statue made by human hands. Ironically, the opposite was true in the ancient world.  People looked at the Israelites and said, "Where is your God?" And all they could say is, "Yahweh is invisible. You can't see them." And it was ridiculous to non-Israelites because they could see and touch their statue gods.  Today, few people still worship statues, but non-believers make a similar ridicule of Christians.  "You pray to some invisible God," they think while they trust in more tangible things like science, reason, money, a job, power, and politics.  And some people are afraid to put their faith in an invisible God because it would irrational to trust something you cannot see instead of more tangible things.

Others may be afraid to surrender themselves.  They are not sure if they are willing to trade their life and dreams for the life God wants to give them.  They may be afraid to give up control.  But God vcan't fight your fear--whatever it is--if you are willing to step on the battlefield.

Perhaps the battle is something more specific: an illness or chronic disease, a career change, a new stage of life for you or someone you love.  Perhaps change is coming in your life and the fear is palpable.  But I want to encourage you:  Be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged. For [if you have faith in Him] the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Step out onto the battlefield and trust God to fight the battle for you and you will be victorious.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 10 - The Death of First Born Sons

Introduction
The people in the Bible were real people living in the real world.  Don't ever forget that—especially as we consider this terrible 10th plague. Every 1st born through the land of Egypt died as the Angel of Death passed over the land--from the firstborn son of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the lowest servant, even the firstborn among the animals died. (COVID has effected all of us. Most of us know of someone who has had it.  The 10th Plague effected every family personally. In one dark night, every single family had someone die.)

Some would question why would God send such a terrible plague.  Well, I’m not one to questions God’s judgments (nor am I one to lightly blame God for every disaster that comes).  This passage clearly says God is the one who sent the plague.  There is a biblical principle that a person reaps what they sow.  How did Egypt treat the Israelites?  Pharaoh issued a terrible edict that every male child born among the Hebrews must be thrown into the Nile river. Do you remember that?  Moses was one of those baby boys that was to be murdered in the Nile river.  He escaped miraculously by the hand of God.  And now that same Moses is the instrument that God used for retribution against Egypt.  What comes around, goes around and the judgment you use against others is the same judgment that will be used against you. 

This was the most terrible plague of all that struck Egypt as the Lord brought judgment on all of Egypt's false "gods".  It was caused by Egypt's sin (which had persisted for centuries)and arrogance and the stubbornness of their leader, Pharaoh, who refused to surrender to God and let His people go. 

The Consequences of Sin
The first lesson for you today is this:  Your sin and idolatry doesn't just effect you.  The effects of sin spread from you to others like a virus.  Pharaoh’s son died on that fateful night when the Angel of Death passed over Egypt carrying out God’s judgment.  But other Egyptians—perhaps more reasonable people who were less cruel than Pharaoh—suffered the same fate as they watched their firstborn son’s struck down because of their nation’s sins. 

So when you suffer because of your own sin, you may think you are getting what you deserve and the price is paid.  But who is paying the price for the suffering and evil you sin brings on your family and your neighbors?  The sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth (and others) aren’t just deadly to you.  When you sin, it affects everyone around you—especially the people you care about most.  The affects of our sin can continue for generations.  You may still be suffering the affects of some of the sins your parents, grandparents, or great grand parents--alcoholism, abuse, etc.  These sins have a ripple effect down through the generations.  Your sins today, may have a similar affect on your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. 

I believe God is calling people today to surrender to Him—just like He was calling for Egypt’s unconditional surrender through Moses.  The 10th plague shows the deadly consequences when we stubbornly refuse to listen to the Lord--even though He comes to us again and again.  It hurts us and even those we love most.

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Family Idol
Throughout this series, I’ve tried to show you that we have idols in the modern world just as much as the ancient Egyptians.  Whereas they worship gods fashioned after frogs and cows and snakes, many people today worship idols of money, power, pleasure, patriotism and other false gods.  An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”[i] 

Idols don’t necessarily start out as bad things.  They often begin as very good things but become idols to us because we make them the ultimate things.  Then, they become our gods.  Even family can become an idol.  

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, family is on the hearts and minds of many people.  We want to gather with those we love most and most people have a strong tradition of visiting family during the holidays (even if their relatives annoy them). 

Jesus was once teaching when he said something very challenging about family.  “As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.”  Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” (Matthew 12:46-50) 

In Jesus’ Kingdom, family isn’t defined by our genetics—those who are our biological brothers and sister.  Out brothers and sisters in the truest sense are the people who share our common goal to do the will of God (our Heavenly Father).  

Jesus’ earthly family—in the beginning of his ministry—thought he’d lost his mind.  They saw their relative saying things that threatened the political authorities and attracted huge crowds of followers.  They wanted to take him home and shut him up.  They couldn’t see he was doing the will of God.  (Or maybe they were too afraid to care.) 

Some people would argue, “Yes, but the Ten Commandments say you must ‘Honor your father and mother’. (Ex 20:12)”  Yes that is true.  But that is the fifth of the Ten Commandments God gave.  The very first one says, “Do not worship any God but the Lord.” (Exodus 20:3) And the second one says, “Do not make idols of any kind.” (Exodus 20:4)  

When we put our family before the will of God, we turn them into idols and worship them ahead of God.  The results are terrible.  Idols lead us into darkness.  They always disappoint and destroy lives.  We should love our earthly family, but if we hold our children so tight we treat them like our gods, we will crush them under the weight of unfair expectation they cannot fulfill.  If we treat our parents like gods, they will be destroyed by the impossibility of living up to the role of God.  Our brothers and sisters are only our equals.  No mere mortal can ever fill the shoes of God and to expect them to is insane and inevitably leads to suffering.

Jesus is Our The Passover Lamb
The Israelites slaves in ancient Egypt were spared the horror of the 10th plague.  Each family was to choose a perfect lamb or goat without any defects.  They were to sacrifice the animal and smear some of its blood on the sides and top of the doorframe to their home.  The blood would mark their household as belonging to God and everyone inside would be covered by the blood and the Angel of Death would Passover their home without bringing harm to anyone inside.   

The Israelites were no better than the Egyptians.  They were sinners too.  But the blood of their “Passover Lamb” signified they were in submission to God and therefore, God forgave their sins and gave grace instead of judgment.  (Incidentally, the same escape was available to the Egyptians.  They could choose to apply the blood to their doorframes as well and there is good reason to believe some did.  Of course, in doing so, they were turning their back on the gods of Egypt and turning toward the God of Israel.  And if they did, they were spared.) 

So in the morning after the 10th plague, it says “There was not a single house [in Egypt not covered by the blood] where someone had not died.” (Exodus 12:30).  I can’t imagine.  But this is the terrible cost of sin. 

In the New Testament, John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus Christ.  Pointing to Jesus, John said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  In 1 Corinthians 5:7, it says, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”  The Gospels tell us Jesus was arrested and crucified during the Jewish holiday of Passover—the holiday when they commemorated God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt after the 10th plague.  Jesus is the Son of God.  His blood pays the price for our sin.  And when we surrender to God—turning from our sins and idols and false gods and turning to God—Jesus blood, the blood of the Lamb, covers us and delivers us from death and slavery caused by sin. 

Invitation
These 10 plagues are not just stories and myths.  They happened to real people like you and me.  As we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, I pray it has opened your eyes to your own vulnerability and mortality.  I hope you realize how desperately you need the saving power of God in your life.  I pray, it will not take another 9 plagues (like it did for the Egyptians before they surrendered unconditionally to God).  Please turn from your sins and turn to God today.  It doesn't just affect you; it affects everyone. 

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Let’s pause for a moment of silence to reflect on our sin, confess them to God, and allow God to cleanse us with the blood of Jesus, our Passover Lamb. 

You are going to need help to walk with the Lord.  Please contact me and let me know of the decisions you’ve made so I can help you in your next steps. 



[i] pages xvii and xviii of Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters