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Archive for February, 2010

The Heart in Hebrews

By nature:

3:8 – hardened

3:10 – always straying

3:12 – evil & unbelieving – hardened further by sin (v13)

3:15 – hardened

4:7 – hardened

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As the Lord acts upon it:

4:12 – its thoughts and intentions judged by the word

8:10 – the law written on it

10:16 – the law put on it

10:22 – sprinkled from an evil conscience

13:9 – strengthened by grace not by ceremonial foods

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Hebrews 10:26 can be a scary verse.  One woman I know has been crippled by the fear that she is damned because of ongoing sin.  Whenever I declared the gospel to her and held out the grace of Jesus she would always come back to these verses:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  (Heb 10:26-27)

Whatever happens we don’t want to be found to be ones who “deliberately keep on sinning.”  So what does it mean?

Different things can be said, but let me just take up one line of inquiry.  Verse 26 uses ‘sin’ in two senses – first as a verb, then as a noun.  It’s interesting to note that Hebrews only uses ‘sin’ as a verb twice.  But ‘sin’ as a noun is everywhere.  Here are all its uses:

Sin as a noun:

is purified – 1:3

is atoned for – 2:17

is not remembered anymore – 8:12; 10:17

is put away once and for all – 9:26

is borne by Jesus once and for all – 9:28

Christ is sacrificed for it once for all time – 10:12

Christ is without it – 4:15

is dealt with in shadowy way by High Priest / old covenant – 5:1,3; 7:27; 10:2,3,4,6,8,11,18,26; 13:11

hardens and deceives – 3:13

gives fleeting pleasures – 11:25

easily entangles – 12:1

causes struggle – 12:4

Sin as a verb is only mentioned twice:

Israelites ‘sinned’ and their bodies fell in the wilderness – 3:17

Deliberately sinning – no sacrifice for sins remains – 10:26

Sin (noun) – has been purified, atoned for, put away and borne in the sacrifice of sinless Jesus once and for all.  It is therefore remembered no more.  This is precisely what the old covenant promised through its shadows but never effected itself.  Sin remains a reality for the Christian – it offers fleeting pleasures.  But it deceives and hardens, it easily entangles and causes painful struggle.

To sin (verb) – is a decisive and deadly rejection of the Lord.  The Israelites “sinned” in the wilderness and so they died (3:17).  This is the verdict upon 40 years of their constantly wayward hearts.  They did not want the Lord and His future and so He swore that they would not enter His rest.  People today ‘deliberately sin’ when they reject Jesus, their one Sacrifice for sins and Forerunner to glory.  If they forsake Him, no sacrifice for sins remains. (10:26)

I wonder therefore whether the slight overtranslation of 10:26 in most versions (“Deliberately keep on sinning …”) spotlights the wrong thing.  The unforgiveable nature of this kind of sinning is not really its ongoingness – though it is an ongoing attitude.  The unforgiveableness of this sin is that it is a rejection of the very One in Whom forgiveness is offered.  The author is not telling us: “a spot of occasional sinning is alright but ongoing sinning is damnable.”  He’s saying that sin is put away by Christ once and for all, but the person who rejects Christ deliberately has nowhere else to turn.

Hebrews is written to a people always tempted to trust the shadows and not the Substance.  They look to angels and Moses and temple and priests and goats and bulls and everything but Jesus.  But Jesus is the One we are to See and Fix our thoughts upon, etc, etc.  If we have seen HIM and then turn away again to worthless sin-bearers – no sacrifice for sins remains.  We’ve rejected the one Life-raft.

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Paul Blackham writes here and you can find his All Souls sermons here and Farm Fellowship sermons here.

Exodus 7:14 – 10:29

Most people remember the story of the plagues from their childhood.  We are allowed to enjoy so many of these great Hebrew stories when we are young before we ‘learn’ not to spend so much time in the Scriptures.

Naturally we won’t waste any time on the bizarre attempts to tie the plagues together into a set of meteorological co-incidences!  [The flooding of the Nile plain stirring up red silt [which would have stunned the ignorant Egyptians who had never seen red silt before!], which encouraged the frogs to leave the river and invade the houses… the dead frogs decay and produce gnats… and… I forget how this is supposed to continue.  I can’t remember how the boils produced the hail and the locusts… but I’ll remember in a minute.  This proposal is supposed to make the Bible easier to believe for outsiders so I’m sure there is a really good explanation of the boils, hail and locust… and why the Egyptians didn’t understand about red silt… ? ..! …?  If only the BBC would produce one of those excellent TV series at Easter…. They always get ‘Bible experts’ to explain all these things.]

The general truth in these plagues is clear enough: The Angel of the LORD is more powerful than Pharaoh, his mighty magicians and the various gods of Egypt.  Yet, each of the plagues displays a different facet of the fact that Jesus is LORD.  The plagues have a progression as they circle in around the first born humans.  They begin at arms length and then get closer and closer.  Plenty of warning is thereby given… yet the terrible and suicidal nature of our selfish hearts is revealed by the fact that we insist on going on to the bitter end in our rebellion.

The plagues serve as an important demonstration of the great and terrible judgements the Lord must exercise in order to redeem us from slavery.  It would be so ‘pleasant’ to imagine that salvation and renewal could be achieved from the comfort of an armchair or in that lovely, gentle spirituality of self-improvement and meditation on how divinely glorious we all really are.  Yet, the shadow of the Cross falls across redemption, from start to finish.  Salvation comes after judgement; glory after suffering.

We are not the desperately grateful victims of a tragedy who cheer the arrival of the emergency services.  No, we are the hardened criminals holed up in the building, shooting at any emergency services that try to get near.  When we are saved, so many of us are kicking and screaming as we spit in the face of Jesus.  Until we see Him as He is and our old humanity is finally destroyed, this is always in us, always making our rescue messy and painful and full of judgement.

The empire of Egypt was comfortable and successful.  The Nile made them the breadbasket of the Mediterranean world.  Even hundreds of years later when the apostle Paul is sailing to Rome we read that he caught a lift on a boat full of Egyptian grain.  Egypt had fabulous wealth and stunning treasures which still capture popular imagination even today.  The gigantic tombs and embalming practices of that ancient past [given to Joseph at the end of Genesis] presumably made them imagine that even death was under their control.

Turning from the Divine Angel who Joseph and his family had worshipped, who had brought such wealth and power to Egypt, they plunged into the sewage of these ‘gods’ who had forsaken their proper habitation.  Far from ordering the nations to the worship of the LORD God through whom all had come to be, they had enthroned themselves as the masters of the universe.  Sin in the heavenlies always looks just the same as sin in the earthlies!

This comfortable and prosperous Egypt has no fear of the Living God!  They had no time for these ancient superstitions from the uncivilised slaves!  They could chart the stars and build the pyramids; they could feed the world and conquer the nations; they could deal with the gods and defy death itself.  Why would they need to listen to a Word that would turn all their security upside down, who would force them to choose between their luxuries and Him?

Into that self-assured arrogance, shown so graphically in Pharaoh as the embodiment of it all, the real world of the Most High God comes crashing down.  Onto the playground of the Egyptian gods, the meteorite of reality explodes – revealing their impotence, judging their rebellion, dethroning their power.

We are told that the Lord is making His Name known to the Israelites (6:7), to Pharaoh (7:17), to all the earth (9:16), and to the Israelite descendants to come (10:2).  This of course includes us.  We too come to know the Name of the LORD Jesus through these plagues, though these judgements.  We learn that Jesus does not issue empty threats.  When He tells us of a coming judgement, it will certainly come to pass.  When He tells us how to escape that coming judgement, His words must be followed to the letter.

How have we accepted certain limits on the power of Jesus?  In that day we assume that the Egyptians took it for granted that Jesus could not control the Nile – and yet He did!  Perhaps they assumed that the demonic frogs or flies were beyond His power – but they were not! The blood of judgement over the Nile; the demonic revelation of the frogs; the creation of new life from the very dust; the proof that Baalzebub is not the true LORD over the flies; the taking of the breath of life from animals; the diseases of the human body; the destruction of human society and production… until finally the light itself goes out.

Think of all the stories in the Bible where the power of Jesus is shown in impossible ways.  Do we really believe that He is capable of acting in that way right now?  Do we honestly believe that He could judge the empires of this day and age in that way?

I always fear that I have mentally so domesticated the LORD Jesus that I don’t really think of Him as the Angel of Death and Judgement who brought these plagues of judgement upon ancient Egypt.  It is not that I don’t know the right words to say [I have all too many of them].  Rather, when I look at the way that I live… is the fear of the LORD Jesus the beginning of my life?  Is the fear and trembling present, the terror of the LORD that drives me to prayer and action, to sacrifice and engagement?

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Happy Friday

ht Tim Ambrose

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Jacky has his christological commentary of the whole bible here.  He’s up to to 2 Samuel at the moment.  His collected posts on the Pentateuch are here.

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Read the verses here

“Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?”

Moses’ words ring true of his temporary role as the mediator on behalf of Israel.  He is a man of uncircumcised speech (v.30).  Some have taken the liberty to interpret this as if Moses had a physical speech impediment, but the LORD’s response in chapter 7 which reveals Moses’ true concern – that he is unable to speak words which will convince the Pharoah to bring the people out of Egypt (v.26-27).

This is the reason why the LORD replies by ordaining Moses as like elohim to Pharoah, just as Aaron is made Moses’ prophet.  Notice how in chapter 7v.2 the LORD states that both Moses and Aaron will be speaking to the Pharoah, ignoring the interpretation that Moses is worried about his speech impediment, or that Aaron is a more “suitable” choice as a speaker before Pharoah.  Rather, the LORD’s choice is for the purpose of showing to Pharoah the dynamic between God and His prophet – through Moses and Aaron respectively.  Where Moses speaks, Aaron repeats Moses’ words and acts in execution: a pattern which re-occurs throughout the plagues.  The Word of God, once spoken, evokes immediate response and action: and the one Word which the Father wishes to speak of concerns the Son.  The Father’s Word is Jesus Christ.  In his framework series, Paul Blackham says,

“…the Word of God confronts us with the plain fact that our minds are as deeply fallen and wicked as our feelings, our bodies and our wills. In fact Colossians 1:21 tell us that because of our sinful behavior, our enmity against God, resides in our minds. However brilliant our reasoning may be, until we have been reconciled to God, our thinking always militates against the gospel. It will always rebel against the truth.”

Such a fundamental truth should not escape the purpose behind the LORD establishing an elohimprophet dynamic before Pharoah to present to him in clarity the intercessory nature of salvation:  the procession of the Spirit from the Father to the Son; from the Son to men; from men to other men; and the glory ascending through the Son and back to the Father.  For what is a prophetes, a nabiy, other than (literally defined as) a Spirit-inspired man?  And what Word does the Triune God wish to speak in the Third Person?

Yet, before we move onto describing this ‘word’ which the LORD wishes Moses to speak and Aaron to act upon, the LORD immediately reveals the conclusion in vv.3-4:

Exo 7:3-4  But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,  (4)  Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment.

It is easy to immediately assume that we are handling a case of double predestination – of predestined reprobation of the Pharoah.  Yet, let us be mindful of the greater analogy of the history of Pharoah versus the Angel of the LORD; the story of Exodus is not merely dealing with the salvation of an individual Egyptian king.  It is displaying the grander scheme of the LORD’s salvation through The Prophet, whose uncircumcised lips meant that no word is uttered other than the Word from the Father:

Deu 18:15-20  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen–  (16)  just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’  (17)  And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken.  (18)  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  (19)  And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.  (20)  But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’

Here, we should notice two things:

  • Though Moses is seen as a ‘god’ before Pharoah and Aaron is his prophet, this is to display the dynamic of elohim and His prophet before the pagan king
  • Furthermore, Moses is seen in Deuteronomy 18 as referring to himself as a prophet – and that a ‘prophet like [him]’ will be raised who will speak the words of the Father.  Aaron is no longer in the picture as a ‘prophet’, but his role becomes that of the first priest of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:10).

This Prophet is the One Sent (John 7:18, ch.8) from the Father to speak of the Father’s glory (c.f. Matthew 11).  Moses is not the prophet; neither is Aaron; yet through the arrangement laid out in Exodus 7, we see the Father speaking and the Son acting; and this is placed before the Pharoah to display him as something more than a mere individual pagan king, the same way that Ezekiel looks at the king of Tyre.  This king is no mere ruler of foreign lands – but he is taken to be the anointed guardian cherub in Eden, destroyed for his pride (Ezekiel 28:13-19).  Only by seeing this greater picture in Exodus 7 can we then come to understand how Pharoah’s heart comes to be hardened, and the picture of the serpent-staff seen already in Exodus 4 as the first thing witnessed of the LORD’s power which granted Moses confidence, and re-iterated once more in chapter 7 as the first thing witnessed by the Pharoah which further hardened him.

At this point, it is important we take a step back to consider the greater picture of what is being said concerning the Pharoah’s relationship with Moses and Aaron; concerning Satan’s relationship (or lack of) with the Triune God.

Allow me to make a lengthy quotation of Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics.  Its relevance will be seen shortly:

“At any rate as they are systematised in Leviticus 14 and 16 it is obvious that the following form is common to both.  Two creatures which are exactly alike in species and value are dealt with in completely different ways.  The selection of the one for this and of the other for that treatment, seems to be a matter for the priest in Leviticus 14:15f, while lots are cast in Leviticus 16:8.  In both cases it is obvious that the selection is inscrutable, and that it is really made by God Himself.  It is also obvious with what special purpose and meaning these two acts accompany the history of Israel, and to which special moment of this history they refer as sign and testimony of the divine intention.  We obviously face the special aspect of this history according to which it is the history of the divisive divine election of this and of that man.  What these choices mean, or what it is to which the whole history of Israel points as a history of such choices, is attested by these particular rites, the witness being given a fixed and permanent form by the detailed legal regulations.

…Yet we must observe that the second goat is also ‘placed before the Lord’, that the treatment meted out to him and the tragic record of his unusability also form an integral part of the sign and testimony set up on the Day of Atonement.  Cain is just as indispensable as Abel, and Ishmael as Isaac.  For the grace which makes an elect man of the first can be seen only from the second, because the first, the elect, must see in the second, the non-elect, as in a mirror, that from which he was taken, and who and what the God is who was delivered from it.  It is only as one who properly belongs to that place that God has transferred him from it.  Because election is grace, the unused belonged to the used, the sacrificed goat to the goat driven into the wilderness, the non-elect to the elect…

…The ceremony described in Leviticus 14 obviously runs in exactly the opposite direction… The treatment of the first bird speaks of this necessary presupposition of his purification.  The bird is slain, its blood is shed and then made ready for what follows, as in the case of the first goat in Leviticus 16.  But this time everything really depends on what follows… The healed leper is sprinkled seven times with this blood, while simultaneously the second bird is allowed to fly away ‘into the open field’… to freedom… The purpose, and the only purpose, in the death of the one bird, the separation and reservation of the one man, is that the other may live.  But how comforting it is for all who are separated and reserved that, according to Leviticus 14, it is to the second bird, which has no part in the accomplishment of the decisive action, and which is unusable in the sense of Leviticus 16, that the benefit of the sacrifice of the first and usable bird accrues.  That which was done to the first turns to the advantage of the second… The recipient of the fruit of election is obviously for the non-elect.  How can we fail to see that Cain and Ishmael and Esau are now given yet another right than that which is remotely visible in Leviticus 16?  They are witnesses to the resurrection reflected in Leviticus 14.  The promise addressed to the men on the right hand is manifestly fulfilled in those on the left.”

The explanation of the picture of Satan and Christ in Exodus 7 should not end with Barth’s lengthy quote, for the narrative is designed to explain the dichotomy of the Angel of the LORD and the rebellious anointed cherub through the battle of the serpents:

Exo 7:10-12  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent.  (11)  Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts.  (12)  For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.

Yet, why is the imagery of the serpent, such a wicked imagery (Revelation 20:2), used to defeat the other serpents?  This recalls the same imagery of the brazen fiery serpent set on the pole (Numbers 21:5-9; John 3:12-15) which can heal those who see it despite being bitten by other serpents.  Such a peculiar picture of serpents against serpent repeated in the story of Moses can be explained in Barth’s observation of the sacrifices in Leviticus 14 and 16 – the dichotomy of Christ and Satan, the dichotomy of the Elected Head and the Rejected Head.  The raising of the brazen serpent equivalent to the ascension of the Sent One (c.f. John 3:12-15).  This is sweetly summed up in the words of Habbakuk:

Hab 3:13-14  You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah  (14)  You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.

Exodus 7:1-13 lays up the scenario for Pharoah’s destruction, which in turn leads to Egypt becoming an increasingly threat-less kingdom throughout the rest of history.  A once prosperous nation benefiting from the mediation of the Christ-like Joseph falls in the hands of Pharoah, Herod, Cain, Ishmael, Esau, all types of he who is the ‘head of the house of the wicked’ (Habbakuk 3:13).  Yet, it is by the serpent that the serpents are crushed; it is by the sting of death that death is defeated; it is by the wicked capital punishment of the cross that the wickedness of death is eradicated – and so the arrows of Satan piercing Christ’s side did not leave Christ dead; but from His side birthed the church (c.f. Genesis 2:21) born-again from the victorious blood and water which in turn defeated the bites of the fiery serpent, swallowing up the serpent-ry of ‘wise men’ (c.f. 1 Corinthians 1:19) and ascending once again as the beautiful staff of Aaron:

Num 17:5-8  And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”  (6)  Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs.  (7)  And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.  (8)  On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.

What a beautiful picture of Christ’s death in becoming the rejected serpent by taking upon the sins of mankind, yet through his death on the cross he had swallowed up the death of men to bring about new creation birth!  Yet, the glory does not cease with the staff restoring to its original form – but that upon the Israelites’ salvation from Egypt, the same serpent-staff sprouts and puts forth buds and produces blossoms, bearing ripe almonds.  Upon the taste of this new creation life far greater than a mere restoration to the Garden of Eden, still (v.13) the Pharoah’s heart was hardened.  The outstretched arms of the Son on the cross has not led Pharoah to repentance (Romans 2:4), prompting the necessary salvation from Egypt.

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Read the verses here.

When do people tend to make promises – when they are in power or out of power?

Usually we make promises when we’re out of power.  We may beg for money, drugs, sex, our lives, re-election by making endless promises.  But for us, the promise is a substitute for power.  Give us power, and the promises dry up.

Not so with the LORD Jesus.  He is God Almighty (Ex 6:2) and yet He is the One who makes endless promises to the powerless.

They are promises that define and fill out what it means for Him to be “LORD” – ‘I am the LORD’ begins and ends them (v2,8).

They are promises grounded in indicatives – “I am the LORD”, “I established my covenant”, “I have heard”, “I have remembered.”  (v2-5)

They are promises grounded in actual history (v13-27).  Looking back on their fulfilment to date will give great confidence for the future.

They are promises that are, at times, too much for His people to absorb in their discouragement (Ex 6:9).  Yet nonetheless they are to be proclaimed over them.

They are too much for the preacher as well given the “uncircumcision” of his lips (Ex 6:12).  Yet nonetheless the power is not in the preacher but in the promise.

They are promises that prove a watershed – to one side they fall as blessings, to the other as curses.  For the Egyptians these very same promises are in fact their judgement (Ex 6:11).  Those who are not aligned with the promise find themselves enemies of the God of promise.

And what are these promises?  Today, no matter what your discouragement, your burdens, your feelings of slavery to sin – hear the sevenfold promise of the LORD:

“I am the LORD

and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians

I will free you from being slaves to them,

and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

I will take you as my own people,

and I will be your God.

Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.

And I will lead you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.

I will give it to you as a possession.

I am the LORD”  (Exodus 6:6-8)

Glory!

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We have endless substitutes for the actual, dynamic, personal presence of the Spirit in our thinking.  Here’s a sketch of just a few off the top of my head.

Of course, many of these can be means by which the Spirit works. Yet if they are cut off from the Source they have no life in them:

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Doctrine of Omnipotence

An a-topic, abstract power is assigned to God.  This is all rather than the active and immanent Person who is God’s Power – the Spirit of Christ.
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Doctrine of Omnipresence

We say “God is here” because we believe ‘God is everywhere‘ in an abstract sense.  Rather than acknowledging the indwelling personal presence of the Spirit of Jesus.
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Doctrine of Omniscience

This happens in, for instance, biblical interpretation.  Often the living nature of the Spirit-breathed Word is replaced by a doctrine of God’s omniscience in the original authorship of the Bible.  We have faith in God’s omniscience – that He inspired the text thousands of years ago in such a way that it would speak to every generation.  This takes the place in our thinking of the Spirit as the Dei loquentis persona (God speaking in person).  Instead of the dynamic, contemporary ministry of the Spirit, our spotlight falls on an ancient omniscience.  A fossilization of the living word?

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Assurance found in moral performance.

Romans 8:16 says ‘the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’  Few preachers I hear teach that assurance comes in the fellowship we enjoy with the Spirit.  An inward moral check is emphasized rather than the Spirit’s inward testimony.

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Fellowship of believers

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Cor 13:4) is not a Spirit-generated church-fellowship! Yet so many take it in this way. No, just as the love of God is an enjoyment of God in His love and just as the grace of Christ is an enjoyment of Christ in His grace, so the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is fellowship with the Spirit!
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‘Now but not yet’.

We often speak of this age (truly) in terms of absence and in-between-ness. We live in between the comings of Christ. This is all absolutely correct and vitally important. But let’s not forget the presence!  This is the age of the Spirit.  The Spirit’s presence is the ‘now’ in the ‘now-and-not-yet’.  Let’s remember Jesus said ‘It is for your good I am going away… if I go I will send Him to you’! (John 16:7).

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Fruit of the Spirit

At one time I was praying through the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 and using these nine characteristics as a moral checklist.  I confessed my lack of fruit and prayed for more.  One day I was doing this and got a picture in my mind of the Holy Spirit coming to my door laden with a big basket of fruit and me saying to Him ‘Thanks Spirit, just leave the fruit and I’ll see you later.’  I was praying for fruit when I should really have been praying for the Spirit Himself.  These fruit grow organically from a relationship with Him.  Let’s desire Him and not simply His gifts.

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Application in preaching

So much preaching advice assumes that it’s the preacher’s job to bridge the gap between text and congregation.  Surely it is the Spirit’s work to drive home the Word to our hearts!  How often preaching is thought to really live when the preacher ‘applies’ the text to Monday morning and the ‘nitty-gritty’ of life.  Yet the Spirit, in living power, makes the Word alive and applies it to our lives in ways more nuanced, powerful and incisive than any preacher could.

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Human advice

In the realm of guidance
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Human aptitude

In the realm of gifts
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Apologetics

In the realm of evangelism
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Strategy

In the realm of Kingdom-work
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Oratory skill

In the realm of preaching

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Grammatical-historical method.

Text critical tools give the meaning of the Bible, not the Author Himself

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Any more we can add to the list?

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Read Exodus 5 here.

And so Moses and Aaron, fearing the weakening of the modern family, the slow but steady erosion of Israelite values in public life and their worsening working conditions decided to do the only thing upstanding, God-fearing folk can do – they formed a political pressure group.  They called it CHANGE:  Campaigning Hebrews for A Nicer Gentler Egypt.

They got the best legal advice, produced petitions by the armful and exploited every political contact they knew.  In time they broadened their support base and went ‘co-belligerent’ with several other non-Israelite lobbies.  Out of this was birthed the Campaigning Religious Interest-groups for a Nicer Gentler Egypt.

Some claimed that this rainbow coalition weakened their position but others insisted that CRINGE struck exactly the right note for the multicultural sensibilities of modern Egypt.

The combination of Moses’ wisdom, his knowledge of Egyptian philosophy, his family connections and his brother’s gift of the gab, make for a considerable force in Egyptian politics.  Maybe this way Egypt will be straightened out a little and God’s people will not suffer so much.

But no.  As we saw in chapter 2 – the LORD rejects the way of earthly power, whether that be political or military.  Instead Moses and Aaron (aged 80 and 83 respectively!) are to stand in front of the world’s most powerful man and to simply speak the word of the LORD.

They don’t make arguments from the common good, from common sense, from common commitments.  They say to Pharaoh, ‘Yahweh – the scandalously particular God of Israel – demands you let us go.’

Pharaoh says, “Who’s this Yahweh?  Never heard of him!”

If ever there was a time for Moses and Aaron to do some consensus building it was now.  Something like: “Oh, right, umm.  Well, you know Osiris?  Well Yahweh is kinda like Osiris.  But bigger and less green.”

Or: “You know that funny feeling in your stomach after a beautiful sunset?  That’s Yahweh.”

Or: “Right sorry, let’s forget about Yahweh for now.  Instead let’s agree that there’s a Higher Power and work from that.”

Moses and Aaron do none of this.  Instead the one thing they agree on is that Pharaoh does not in fact know the LORD.

Verse 3: the LORD is “The God of the Hebrews.”  ‘Hebrew’ is usually the description a foreigner uses of an Israelite. (eg Gen 39:14; Ex 2:6; 1 Sam 4:6).   Literally it means ‘one from beyond’.  So it could mean ‘one from beyond the river’ as a foreigner would view it.  But there’s also a big sense in which even the Hebrews in their midst are ‘from beyond’.  And their God is the God of those from beyond.  He cannot be reduced to a familiar object of knowledge.  Instead He must be declared as ‘One from beyond’ by His people who are similarly strange and ‘from beyond’.

And if they don’t know the One of Whom we speak – they will come to know Him as the Word is declared with accompanying signs.

The drum beat of the plagues will be: “Then the Egyptians (and Israelites!) will know that I am the LORD.”  (Ex 6:7; 7:5,17; 8:10,22; 9:29; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4,18).  And afterwards in the wilderness ‘knowing the LORD’ seems to be the goal for all His words and works: 16:6,8,12; 18:11; 29:46; 31:13.

But Christ’s strategy has always been for weak people to proclaim a weak message, but to do so on His authority.  We are not to bolster it with anything except the signs the LORD Jesus has given to accompany it.  Wherever His redemption occurs it’s clear that human wisdom and power has played no part whatsoever.

Of course this strategy won’t bring earthly security.  If we want a nicer, gentler Egypt then we should join the lobby groups and the unions.  Christ’s way – declaring His word on His authority – will often make things worse (from the viewpoint of worldly comfort). 

That’s what the rest of the chapter documents.  And the suffering of the Israelites is documented in detail here.

Pharaoh has only work for the Israelites and burdens and labour and taskmasters and beatings and unyielding and ever-increasing targets.  All the while he accuses them “You are idle! You are idle!”  (v17)

Why are these terrible conditions emphasized here?  Well one reason might be because later on the Israelites will absurdly use some rose-tinted glasses on their time in Egypt.  When facing the deprivations of the wilderness they’d look back longingly on the “flesh pots” of Egypt (Ex 16:3), the free fish and cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic of their slavery (Num 11:5).  They’d even describe the country carrying out a genocide on their people as as a land flowing with milk and honey (Num 16:13).

In a sense Exodus 5 is telling believers of every age – No matter how hard life is in the wilderness with the LORD Jesus, do not be tempted to re-imagine your slavery.  Egypt is not the land of milk and honey.  Egypt is the place where harsh taskmasters make you work harder and harder for less and less.  And even as you do more and more, they brand you as idle.  Our bondage to sin and Satan is just like this.  We chase after moving targets and never get the verdict we’re looking for.

So however much you’re tempted to re-imagine life in sin – realize it’s not milk and honey, it’s slavery.

Hear the word of Pharaoh:

Get back to your burdens… the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!  (v4-5)

And now hear the word of the LORD:

Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness. (v1)

Satan is a murderous slave-master.  And all the while the LORD Jesus calls you to rest (v5) at the place of sacrifice (v3) and feasting (v1).  Give up on Egypt.  Give up on trying to make it nicer.  Give up on compromises with this old order.  Leave behind your burdens and join Jesus in the wilderness.  He’ll take you to the true land of promise.

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You will be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect  (Matt 5:48)

Now the first mistake people make with this verse is to forget that it’s an indicative.  Jesus could have used the imperative here (You must be perfect), but He chose to use the future indicative – You will be perfect.

The other mistake is a broader one about God’s ‘perfection’.  Typically people think about divine perfection as that which excludes.  You know the sort of thing – “God is perfect, you are not.  You’ve got a snowflakes chance in hell with a perfect God, etc, etc.”

And don’t we just hate the idea of a ‘perfect’ person?  Because what we have in mind is someone who can’t stand faults.  Perfection, to our way of thinking, is actually pretty unattractive.  And instinctively we feel like perfection is the enemy of that which is broken, faulty, sinful.  It just seems like perfection excludes.

But the context  in Matthew and the parallel in Luke show a very different picture of perfection.

The Father’s perfection, as Jesus explains it, is (Matthew 5:44) a love for enemies, (v45) sun and rain for the ungodly, (v46) love for the unlovely, (v47) welcome for the stranger.

And the parallel in Luke says:

Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful  (Luke 6:36)

Divine perfection is not exclusive – it’s inclusive.  It is the Father’s perfection to have mercy on rotten sinners.  The perfection of God is not what keeps you out of His presence, the perfection of God is His heart’s desire to constantly draw you in.

And when we get that through our thick skulls, then we’ll start being like our merciful God.

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Read the verses here

“Let me go”, says Moses.

Jethro, the shepherd-priest, gives a very different answer to the one Pharaoh will give: “Go, and I wish you well!” (v18)  If only Pharaoh had the Spirit of Jethro!

Pharoah will not let them go and the LORD knows it.  In chapter 3:19 He says:

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.

Literally this is a “hand of strength” or a “hard hand”.

In Exodus 4, the hand of Moses has been made strong/hard – see the three signs he was given earlier in the chapter and the staff that he now carries in his hand (v20).  And so the hardness of the LORD’s hand (through Moses) will prove stronger than the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart (v21).

It’s a battle of between two kinds of strength (hardness).  The strong/hard hand of the LORD (probably a title for the Spirit) working through His humble servant (Moses) versus the strong/hard heart of Pharaoh and his mighty host.

But this is not a fair fight.  Viewed from the flesh it looks like its unfairly stacked against Moses and the Israelites.  But seen from the perspective of the Mighty Spirit of the LORD, Pharaoh is shown to have no power of his own.  Even the strength of Pharaoh is a derived strength.

Verse 21 is emphatic: the LORD says “I, even I will harden/strengthen Pharaoh’s heart.”  Even the strength of the LORD’s opposition comes ultimately from the LORD Himself!  The pretensions of the world’s mightiest man are only a parasitic perversion of Christ’s own power.  And the strengthening that happens is only the handing over of Pharaoh to his own much-desired self-will (cf 3:19).

Exodus 4:21 is the first mention of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.  As events unfold the hardening is spoken of as follows:

Pharaoh’s heart was hard/strong (7:13)

Pharaoh’s heart was heavy / unyielding (this is also the word for ‘glory’) (7:14)

Pharaoh’s heart was hard/strong (7:22)

Pharaoh made heavy his heart (8:15)

Pharaoh’s heart was hard/strong (8:19)

Pharaoh made heavy his heart (8:32)

Pharaoh’s heart was heavy (9:7)

The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (9:12)

Pharaoh made heavy his heart (9:34)

Pharaoh’s heart was hard/strong (9:35)

The LORD made heavy Pharaoh’s heart (10:1)

The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (10:20)

The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (10:27)

The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (11:20)

There is an interplay of Pharaoh’s hardening and the LORD’s but again we must be clear that the LORD does not hand Pharaoh over to anything which he does not actually want himself. (cf. Rom 1:24,26,28)

And all of this reaches a climax in 14:16-18 where “hand”, “harden” and “heavy/glory” are combined:

16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

The strengthening of the heart in opposition to the LORD emboldens them to pursue their own glory.  But the strength of the LORD’s hand is proved when this very thing is turned to the LORD’s glory – the salvation of His people.

Here is the power of the cross.

26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’  27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:26-28)

It is the glory of the LORD to make His enemies serve His saving purposes.   The ultimate show of this is the cross, but Pharaoh is a powerful foretaste.

Verses 22 and 23 reveal what’s at stake in the battle of these two kinds of strength:

`This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’

It’s a battle of the sons.  One is set to inherit the throne of the world’s greatest super-power, the other is a down-trodden slave.  But because of the LORD’s mighty hand, God’s son will inherit all the promises and Pharaoh’s son will die under divine judgement.

Of course the very Speaker of these words is the True Son (who is also the Avenging Angel!) and He will die as a Lamb under the divine judgement.  God’s Son, the LORD Jesus, will suffer as Pharaoh’s son so that God’s son, Israel will be saved.  But one way or another there will be blood.  Which is what the next section is about.

In v24-26 we see that Moses has been careless with the bloody sacrament of circumcision.  And this matters a great deal to the Lord!   He would be the Son – the Seed – cut off as a Lamb under divine judgement.  And the people were meant to cut this covenanted promise of salvation into their bodies – to very nearly cut off their own seed in this bloody sign.

Well Moses is about to go and enact this great Old Testament foreshadowing of the cross to save God’s son Israel – and he hasn’t even put the Old Testament sign of the cross on his own son.   The Lord is angry.  He will not have Moses enact these gospel prophecies without taking the gospel promises seriously.  These signs matter to the Lord and He’s angry enough to kill the man He’s just commissioned to lead the people!

Thank God for his Midianite wife who performs the emergency procedure and touches his feet with it.  And surely the “his” refers to the Lord’s feet.  The Lord is the great Bridegroom of Blood.  He cuts the marriage covenant with His people in His own blood.  That’s what these signs point towards – the Lord’s own blood.  It’s His bloody death that wins a bride.  When Moses and Zipporah own this truth in the sacrament, the Lord lets them alone.

In v27 we see the fulfilment of 4:16, “you shall be as God to him.”  Moses is God, Aaron is his prophet.  And all of Moses’ words and deeds will be spoken and performed by his prophet.  (Of course this sets us up for Deuteronomy 18:18f).

And so naturally – just as the God of Abraham met Moses on Sinai, now Moses (as God) meets Aaron on Sinai.

They go to the people and pass on the good news:

when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them (lit. “had visited them”) and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.

Isn’t that wonderful?  The LORD Jesus doesn’t just visit us – He sees our misery.  This reminds us of those wonderful verbs in chapter 2 – God heard, God remembered, God saw, God knew. (v24-25)

He looks on His people as the son He loves, as the bride He bleeds for.   He will use all His might to crush our oppressor, to remove our shackles and lead us to a spacious place.  When we hear about the compassion of our redeeming Lord Jesus then we really bow down and worship.

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Paul’s wonderful sermons can be heard from All Souls, Langham Place and from Tarleton Farm Fellowship where he currently ministers.

Exodus 4:1-17 – Paul Blackham

How does the Living God identify Himself to us?

What are the unmistakable signs of the LORD Jesus, sent from the Father in the power of the Spirit?

I remember years ago when I was in a bank and my identity needed to be confirmed.  They rang the branch in my home village and asked them to describe me.  They referred to the scars on my head and then I was told to speak down the phone so that they could confirm my voice… and my identity was confirmed.

How would your own identity be confirmed?  What is unmistakable about you?  Are there things you might do that would conclusively prove your identity to anyone who really knew you?

Moses was faced with a problem.  There are always plenty of people who claim to speak in the name of ‘God’.  History is littered with such claims.  Even throughout the Christian church there are more ‘prophets’ than ever who claim to have been told things by the LORD God.  Others simply claim to have been given messages from this Living God and expect us to receive them as if we were being addressed by the LORD Jesus Himself.

Moses realises that not all the saints in the Egyptian church would be ready to listen to his claims to speak for the LORD Jesus.  Why should they?  What distinguishing signs or actions could he present that would unmistakably identify the One who had sent him?

The LORD Jesus saw an immediate solution.  Moses was carrying a wooden pole, designed to support him.  As the LORD Jesus saw this anointed man leaning onto this wooden pole, He could see a strong way to reveal His own identity to the Egyptian church.  Just as He Himself would one day be supported on the wood, lifted up in order to crush the Serpent… so Moses could be given the profound privilege of enacting that future victory before the very eyes of the ancient church.

Verse 3 shows us the profoundly godly reactions of the great apostle Moses.  The very sight of the snake causes him to recoil in horror.  He knew what happened when Eve got drawn into a conversation with such a creature [whether Moses was skilled in parsiltongue we may well doubt].  Better to run from such a confrontation… or so he thought.  Rather than run from the devil, giving him the power of fear over us, the LORD Jesus shows Moses that in His Name the saints may have victory over that ancient dragon.

Rather than teaching Moses special snake catching techniques, rather Moses is commanded to treat the power of the snake with disdain.  Rather than catch it around the head, to prevent it from striking, Moses is to calmly take it by the tail, allowing it to bite and threaten all it can!  Yet, when grasped by this servant of Jesus, the snake is transformed back into the wooden staff.

This reminds us so much of Acts 28 when that much later apostle, Paul, also showed how the snake is crushed by Jesus.  The snake lashed out and pumped out its poison into Paul’s veins.  Holding it up, without fear, for all to see, the great apostle calmly passed judgement upon it casing it into the fires of destruction.  It is no wonder that the islanders were utterly amazed, assured of a divine presence among them!

The same moment of recognition was predicted by Jesus for Moses when he would perform this sign:

“This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has appeared to you.”

My favourite sign is the second one.  Moses is to put his hand over his heart and draw it out.  The diagnosis is serious indeed – a heart diseased and desperately wicked.  Surely such a holistically corrupted heart is beyond cure!  Surely nobody can cure a heart whose putrefaction extends out to the whole body, spirit and mind!

Yet, when Moses puts his hand back over his heart, as instructed by the Divine Physician, the disease is impossibly healed.  Throughout the Scriptures the unmistakable proof of the divine identity is His ability to save.  Only one of the ‘gods’ is able to bring new birth and new creation.  When the saints in Egyptian captivity saw this sign, they would have fallen on their knees with shouts of praise and worship to the Divine Angel – the very One who was on His way to deliver them.

The final sign is solemn and fearful.

The Nile was [and still is] the great river of life, making Egypt into the great bread basket of North Africa.  If the Egyptian gods needed to exercise their power over anything at all then it had to be over the Nile.  Surely this was the very heart and soul of the Egyptian Empire.

Yet, even here they could not withstand the Living God.  His total power over His creation is demonstrated in His ability to turn the river of life into the river of death.  Blood flowing through our veins is our life, but when we see the blood before us, poured out, then it is the sign of death.

It hardly need be said that we must laugh at or be enraged at the ludicrously offensive suggestions that the blood is nothing more than the stirring up of red silt.  To those who have lived with and worked with the Nile, viewing all its colours and silts throughout the seasons, it would hardly have caused any alarm to see some water poured onto red coloured silt.  Anybody who would have been deceived by such a simple ‘conjuring trick’ would hardly be worth convincing of anything at all.

No, in turning the water into blood the LORD Jesus was pronouncing a judgement on the empire of the Nile.  Before this story had finished, the land of the Nile would feel the fatal judging hand of the Divine Angel Himself.

Moses was richly equipped to bear witness to the unmistakable identity of the LORD Jesus – the sign of the snake, the leprous heart and the blood would all reveal His identity in wonderful ways.

Yet, Moses was still full of nervous fear.  As an 80 year old man he was looking forward to retirement on a Mediterranean island, with his yacht and villa.  He had tried to offer redemption to the ancient church 40 years before and they had not been ready to receive it – Acts 7:24-25.  Now it was time for others to speak up and take responsibility.  Moses had spent 40 years [the symbolic time of testing] far from the civilised and cultured realms of human society.  He had spent his time at the Mountain of God, leading Jethro’s sheep to safe pasture.

How could this have prepared him in any way for this impossible challenge of leading his Father’s flock to safe pasture in a promised land!?

No, as far as Moses was concerned, he was not, and never had been, capable of doing this.  To speak to the leader of the world’s super power, it was clearly necessary to have strategic connections, academic qualifications, rhetorical training!  How could one man, trusting only in the power of the Almighty Spirit, be able to make any difference?

Verse 11:

The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

What is striking about this rebuke to Moses is not only that the Cosmic Christ is clearly the source of all human ability, but that He is also the one who makes us deaf, mute and blind.  Yes, even our lack of ability is also under His control.  This could open up a whole Pandora’s Box of pointless questions if we allowed it to go in a useless direction, but rather we should see the point He is making to Moses.  Even if it were true that Moses had little ability, even this is entirely under the control of the LORD Jesus.  In fact, the very lack of power in the flesh may be a necessary precondition for the power of Jesus to be displayed.  Could we really see His identity and glory if a brilliant and renowned speaker were to deliver His mighty message?  Do we not see and hear Him so much more when the clueless, mumbling saint speaks nothing but the pure Word of God?

Not many with degrees, still less with PhD’s; not many rich, still less ‘successful’; not many gifted and strategic, still less admired and loved…

Those of us who have read or listened to someone like Joni Eareckson Tada can see this so well.  How could it possibly be an occasion for divine glory for her to be denied so much physical ability?  Yet, how many thousands of people have been drawn to Jesus’ glory precisely because His own power and majesty have been able to shine through her unhindered by the thick clouds of human ability?

Natural ability can be given or withheld by Jesus, the LORD over the whole creation.  Do we trust Him when He denies us the abilities we wish we had?  Are we ready to do what He asks us especially when we are convinced we do not have the ability to do what He asks us to do?

The LORD Jesus sends Moses away.  Aaron has plenty of natural ability and would be eager to use it in this opportunity.  Yet, with hindsight, as we review their two careers – who was most useful?  Who brought most glory to Jesus?  Were the leadership gifts and eloquence of Aaron well-used in Exodus 32:1-6?

Moses would have to train this apprentice – verse 15.  This was a ticking timebomb.  The fire and passion of Jesus’ glory was filling Moses’ heart and mind – Hebrews 11:26.  As soon as Moses began to instruct Aaron on what he had to say, Moses would be overcome with zeal for Jesus.  We see this happen so that it is not long before Moses pushes Aaron aside and takes up the responsibilities that Jesus had given him to do.

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And with vimeo you can burn it onto DVD and use it in a small group for instance.

Good innit?

PS – I hope someone washes that black shirt of Rico’s.  Get’s a lot of use…

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Tom Rout is a minister in training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and all round good egg.  This is an adaptation of a recent talk he gave on Exodus 3.

Exodus 3 Lent meditation (read Exodus 3 here)

As we’ve seen over the last few days, the situation for God’s people Israel looks bleak at the beginning of Exodus. But the closing verses of chapter 2 suggested that help might be on its way…

Today in chapter 3, we discover how the Lord will save his people from their slavery, a historical story teaching us the way He would ultimately deliver people all over the world from their slavery to sin.

With that background in mind, let’s pick up the story in chapter 3:7-8.

“The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

What fantastic news for the Israelites! The Lord God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob has come down from heaven to take up their cause. This is such a crucial lesson for us to take in.  In the Bible salvation is something the Lord takes responsibility for. His people aren’t expected to fix the problem of slavery to sin themselves. What a relief! The Lord has taken this most important of all matters – our salvation – out of our feeble hands and steps in among us to sort it out Himself! He’s the reason we’ll be rescued.

Exodus 3 tells us more about this God who has come down from heaven to save his people.

It’s a well-known story. Moses’ days living in Pharaoh’s palace are long gone.  Now he is just a simple herdsman, looking after sheep that belong to his father in law. It’s another ordinary, lonely day in the desert with no-one but the sheep for company… UNTIL!

Suddenly Moses sees this amazing sight.  A bush, ablaze, on fire… but strangely not consumed. Just burning, burning, burning.

So over he goes to take a closer look. But he’s in for a shock. As if the burning bush wasn’t enough of a surprise – there’s someone inside it! But who?

This is one of the real treasures of Exodus.

According to verse 2 it’s a figure called ‘the angel of the Lord’

As we read on, though, it’s clear that this ‘angel of the Lord’ is no ordinary angel. Verse 4 says that God called to Moses from within the bush. And in verse 6 this figure claims “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This angel is a divine being. (In the Bible people who meet God are told to take their sandals if they haven’t fully grasped that they are in God’s presence!  Compare vs. 5 with Joshua 5:13-15)

Some of us will be wondering whether this angel can really be God?

Maybe we have verses like John 1:18 in our minds, which says that ‘no one has ever seen God.’ But think for a second. That verse continues in a very interesting way:

‘No-one has ever seen God but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’

Can this angel really be God?  Yes he can.

If we’re confused, the answer is found in the Trinity.

The Bible makes clear that God the Father is never seen by human eyes. But it also tells us that God the Son can come down be seen by humans. So the divine figure who Moses met in the burning bush is the fully divine Son of God.

The name ‘angel’ shouldn’t trouble us. Angel simply means ‘messenger’, or ‘sent one’.  And the Son of God is the one supremely sent from heaven to do the will of God in the world.

Just a few weeks back at Christmas we used all sorts of Old Testament names for the Son of God: Remember the famous line from Isaiah chapter 9: ‘He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.  These were all special names for Jesus, the Son of God. That’s how we should think of ‘The angel of the Lord’ It’s one of the Old Testament’s favourite names for Jesus who came and had dealings with men and women many times before he was finally born as a baby at Christmas time.

It is this divine figure, the Son of God, who has come down from heaven in Exodus 3 to lead the people of Israel out of their captivity. Another great lesson: In the Bible salvation is a work that Jesus came down from heaven to perform for us.

As we go through Exodus over the next few weeks we will see this divine Angel leading the Israelites through the Red Sea and journeying with them across the wilderness, guiding them to the promised land, in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Exodus 3 is well known for one other thing.  It’s the chapter in which Moses is commissioned to lead Israel out of Egypt (3:10).

The question is, why did the divine Angel appoint Moses to lead the people, when Moses was clearly so reluctant to be used? (See 3:11+13; 4:1,10 + 13) Why didn’t the Angel just do it himself? After all, he is the Son of God, the one appointed to save God’s people from slavery.  Did he need to use a man like Moses?

It seems the Divine Angel appointed Moses to deliver Israel out of slavery in Egypt to teach us about the way in which He would one day go about delivering the world from its slavery to sin.

When Jesus came He would not come in his divine glory or exercise his sovereign power.  Instead he lived as a man just like us who shared all our human weakness. Even as a grown man serving God’s purpose in the world, he never relied on his own strength. Instead he trusted completely in God. The gospels tell us that Jesus the man performed His miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit. In John’s gospel Jesus says some remarkable words, ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also… by myself, I can do nothing.’ (John 5:19, 30) In all things Jesus learned to lean on his Father and ultimately entrusted himself to God to deliver him from death.

Maybe that’s why Moses is appointed in human weakness and in dependence on God’s strength.  Because it teaches us how God would deliver the world from slavery to sin: by sending his Son to become a weak and humble man, someone who didn’t rely on his own strength, but relied in all things on His Father.

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This is how to preach evangelistically, huh?

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want. –Martin Luther

Go and read all the quotes.

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Happy Friday

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Read Exodus 2 here.

Moses is a true Levite (v1).  Which tells you, among other things, that he’ll be a man of violence (v12! cf Gen 34:25ff; 49:5-7).  He is not the Judah-ite King (Gen 49:8-12) to whom the nations will bow.  The LORD’s Glory will not be united to his company (Gen 49:6).

Moses is not himself the Saviour.  His name (v10) means ‘saved’.  This is not the One Jacob looked for (Gen 49:18) whose name means “salvation” – i.e. Jesus.

But he will share many traits with Him.  He will be a priest for the people, acting on their behalf, declaring the word of the LORD.  And like a new Noah he will come through waters of judgement (v3 – the ‘basket’ is simply the same word as ‘ark’).  And his salvation will mean salvation for all who follow him.

After 400 years of ‘radio silence’ from God, he leaves his father’s company, survives a genocide aimed at eradicating the male seed and is raised by his natural mother in a foreign land.  He enters their condition (Acts 7:22) and becomes “great” (lit. v10 and 11).  He is set as prince and judge of his people (v14) and this is for their redemption (though they don’t see it).  But in the Lord’s wisdom this redemption won’t come through earthly might (v15).

Moses’ first 40 years (Acts 7:23) were spent ‘becoming great’ in Egypt.  Imagine it – the greatest empire the world had known.  And he was at the centre of it all.  He had become wise in all the ways of Egypt and was mighty in word and deed, as Stephen’s speech declares.  And yet, as Hebrews 11 says:

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

For all its appearance by sight, Egypt offered only ‘the fleeting pleasures of sin.’  Moses ‘saw’ something else.  Or rather someOne else – the visible Image of the invisible God.  And reproach with and for Christ is a greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt.  ‘Seeing’ and ‘considering’ this, he refuses his royal identity and sides with his oppressed people for the sake of Christ.

This Levite found a truth that a Benjamite would later describe:

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Phil 3:7-12)

Moses too has fellowship with Jesus in suffering.  And, as with Paul, it conforms him to Christ’s likeness.  Moses’ second 40 years will be spent becoming a saviour shepherd (v17ff) who waters the flock, defending and winning his bride.  This second 40 years was very different to the first.  But it’s so important.

Redemption will not come through Moses’ power politics.  He will not ‘play the game’ and become an inside man in the Egyptian system.  And neither will he simply be the insurrectionist bringing redemption through earthly violence. Both forms of worldly power are taken out of the equation.

From v23 the camera focuses in on the Israelite’s only hope – not their ‘great’ man, but their gracious God:

the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.  (ESV)

God heard.  God remembered.  God saw.  And God knew.  What wonderful verbs!  Meditate on these today.

And what an awesome Subject for these verbs – repeated every time for emphasis.  It is God’s action that will bring about redemption.  And He is not a callous or indifferent God.  The Father Almighty is not deaf, forgetful, blind or ignorant.  The cries of His children ‘come up’ to Him.

We may question His rejection of earthly power and the intollerable wait.  But Exodus 2 teaches us something crucial: Though our Father does not redeem according to our wisdom or timing, He does redeem according to His own – according to His own covenant promises and character.

And His response – so typical! – is to send His Angel (chapter 3), the true Saviour and Hero of the Exodus.

More on this tomorrow….

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by Jacky Lam

Jacky blogs at The Sent One – an awesome Christological commentary on the whole bible.  He has collected together his pentateuch comentary (including Exodus) here.  A real treasure trove.

And do read Exodus 1 first…

From Genesis to Exodus

In Genesis we saw promises.  They reach back from the promise made through Joseph – the mediator of peace with Pharoah on behalf of his brothers.  We trace it back further through his forefathers Israel, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, Enoch, Seth, and back to the head, Adam.  He received the first promise (Genesis 3:15) – the good news to be founded upon his Seed.  There was never any confusion as to the object of these promises – the Christian saints of Genesis looked squarely at the Promise of the Redeemer God-man.

The continuation of this great Promise is borne in the title of the second book of Moses -“ex-hodus” – referring to the exit.  This is the ‘going-out’ of the Israelites from Egypt after they had settled there at the end of Genesis.  The Hebrew title of this book also brings out the theme of continuation in the name “we’elleh shemoth” – which literally means “And these are the names of.”  This is a repetition of the phrase appearing in Genesis 46:8.  This commenced the genealogy of those who came into Egypt just the same way Exodus 1 begins.  Moses’ adoption of this phrase reminds us of the Promise carried forward in each generation.

Joseph was confident in Genesis 50:24-25:

…God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob… God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here

As Exodus begins (v1-5), each Israelite is named in the lineage of Abraham.  And so we see the book Exodus as a fulfillment of the LORD bringing the Israelites out of this land and into the land of those born in the name of Abraham as forefather.

Chapter 1 explains how awesome Israel has become.  From a mere seventy persons to an exceedingly strong and fruitful congregation united by the Promise. Where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died without seeing the promise come to fruition (1 Peter 1:10-12), Exodus immediately introduces us to the fulfilling of the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15).

Verse 6 says that the land “was filled with them” – and though it would seem that the Israelites and the Egyptians are to co-exist (with the Egyptians learning of this Promised Seed of Adam); the Hebrew men and women are waiting for God to visit them.  They await their exodus out of the land of Egypt where the Promise is neither fulfilled nor found.

Yet, not all people stood under the great Promise, and v.8 immediately opens with Pharoah, the new king “who did not know Joseph”.  He is the head, and the very representation of those who stand against the coming One by his very denial of Joseph’s mediatory role.  Unlike the previous Pharoahs, this king comes in the name of oppression, a faint type of Herod’s oppression of the Jews after 400 years of silence.

Pharoah’s fear is that the Israelites would “join [their] enemies and fight against [them] and escape from the land”.  Indeed, this fear is a nearly accurate diagnosis of the prophecy of Joseph in Genesis 50.  The Israelites are either the Pharoah’s people, or belonging to another.  They will either fight for Pharoah, or fight against him.  They will either stay in the land or escape from the land.

It is therefore clear that the Promised One will effect the latter on behalf of the Israelites.  Therefore those cryptic words of v.22 – that “every son that is born to the Hebrews… shall [be] cast into the Nile” – are words aimed at extinguishing the coming Redeemer.

Yet, this threat is empty in the face of the Promise.  It is only through the resurrection of Israel from Egypt; only through the ascension, the revival of Israel from Egypt can we see the grander picture of Christ’s ascension from affliction.  This is all within the Father’s ordination – think of Genesis 15:3 when He knew that Abram’s sons would be afflicted in Egypt; or Genesis 3:15 when He knew the Promised Son would have His heel bruised; or Genesis 2 when Adam’s bride would be raised up through a pierced side and a death-like sleep.

Therefore v. 8-14 is but a microscopic picture of the cosmic battle between the Satan and the Christ.  It is the serpent, typified by Pharoah the serpent worshipper (c.f. the swallowing up of the serpents in Exodus 7), against the Promised Seed, the serpent-crusher (Genesis 3:15) – typified in part by Joseph, and in part, by Moses.  It would be a mistake to assume that the Israelites are to solely rely on these shadows.  Their faith is not in mere men whose bones remind them of their death (Genesis 50:25).  Their faith is defined by the greater Object – the Redeeming God who will visit them and bring them into life.

The way in which Israel is made fruitful is a lesson for us all.  The more we are afflicted for the purpose of Christ, the more it fulfils God’s prophecies, and the more we are assured of being part of the Promised One (1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:13).

Actually the rapid expansion of Israel (repeated in v.7 and v.20), her persecution, and Joseph’s promise reveal to us that the battle between Satan and Christ is not one of equal opposites.  In fact Christ entirely overwhelms.  Christ uses the Pharoah’s oppression and works salvation from it.  Pharoah is the proverbial Roman soldier, Pharoah is the angry and prideful cherub (Ezekiel 28/ Isaiah 16) who wishes to remain on a lonely self-exalted (and self-made) throne, attempting to cut Christ on the cross.  Yet, it is the Father’s will that new life is born from dead seed; that Israel is “brought up” out of Egyptian captivity; and that Christ is resurrected from the pit to the right hand of the Father.

We are the midwives of other new-born

And it is in the context of such slavery that we are brought to the scrutiny of both the beautiful and the splendid – of both Shiphrah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives.  They are but one of many stories of the struggles of the Israelites – and it is in their faithfulness that we see His kingdom being advanced.  It is in the lives of the Israelites, in the lives of Shiphrah and Puah, that we see God’s preservation of this remnant.  The Seed is not destroyed.  In these two women we see a faint glimpse of Elizabeth and Mary, preserving Elijah and the coming Son.

Who you are

Exodus 1 poses a number of crucial questions which will shape our understanding of how the rest of Exodus plays out.  Are you the:

  • Pharoah, who denies Joseph, Moses and above all the true King of Kings, and rather pledge allegiance to the Father of liars (John 8:44) and schemers (Psalm 1:1, 2:2; Proverbs 24:8)?
  • Mid-wife, who denies the false authority of the evil one in favour of bringing to life more souls, as coheirs and workers of the kingdom greater than Egypt?
  • Hebrew, who is bitterly enslaved in the world thirsting for the return of the Promised One?

There is no clear-cut distinction amongst the three parties.  At times we are more one than the other; at times we are all three, a living contradiction.  Yet, the identities of all three revolve around the “God who will surely visit”.  The God who will surely bring us salvation:  He will surely bring in a new creation of a fortress where Gentiles and Israelites co-exist (Pithom v.11), where we stand before him as true children of the Son (Raamses v.11).

To conclude, the Promise-centric nature of Genesis and the Christocentric focus of the Old Testament is our framework for Exodus.  Let us then understand the challenge which the Spirit of God poses in the written word of Exodus.   Let us not accommodate to the daily death of slavery.  Let us be daily captivated by the coming One, who brings new life in the redemption from Satan’s slavery, who will resurrect us from the death of Egypt into the life of Canaan.  Let us walk in the blood of Christ through the refiner’s fire of the wilderness and into the loving arms of the Father in heaven.  Finally, let us recognise that we are his beloved sons and daughters because of the Promised One, and are co-heirs of a glory far greater than the riches of the edenic Garden.

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by Glen Scrivener

Jesus… saved a people out of the land of Egypt. (Jude 5)

Here’s where we begin our Lenten blog through Exodus – Jude’s 10 word overview.  At its heart is the truth: Jesus saves from slavery.  That’s what Exodus is all about.

In today’s introduction to the book, I’ll try to expand on this one thought just a little.  I will focus on the who of Exodus rather than the what.  Today the focus is not on Moses or Pharoah or the plagues or the Red Sea or the law or the tabernacle – that’s for another time.  First we’ll tackle the crucial issue: Who is the LORD who redeems Israel?

Given that this is precisely how the God of the Old Testament defines Himself  – ‘the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt’ – getting this question right is absolutely vital.

We begin at the non-burning bush – Exodus 3.

burning bush

Here the Angel of the LORD (v2) confronts Moses. This Sent One from the LORD is Himself “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (v6).  He is God from God and He calls Himself “I AM WHO I AM.” (v14)

This is important to note because verse 12 may just be the book’s theme sentence:

“But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Ex 3:12)

The Angel does not say “God will go with you and you will worship God.” Nor does He say “I will go with you and you will worship Me.”  No, the Angel is the saving LORD (see Judges 2:1-5) and He relates the people to Another.

Jesus saves a people and brings them to worship God on the mountain.  The Son redeems a people for the Father.  That is what Exodus is all about.  And the rest of the book is the playing out of this truth.

pillar cloudAs the people come out of Egypt – there He is in the pillar of cloud/fire.  At one point He’s called the LORD (13:21,22) at another, ‘the Angel of God’ (14:19,20).  The Sent One who is God is the redeeming LORD.

When He brings them to the mountain (as promised) He makes sure they are prepared to meet the LORD:

The LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.  (Ex 19:10-12)

Here the LORD who has carried them on eagle’s wings is on the mountain.  And he’s warning the people about how dangerous it will be when the LORD meets them on the mountain.  If this were some unitarian god it would be strange talk indeed but we know that the divine Angel is the LORD who is bringing them to meet God (the Father) on the mountain (Ex 3:12).

As Deuteronomy 4 and 5 underline, the encounter on Sinai was utterly unique (e.g. Deut 4:15; 5:26).

giving law

No-one had ever heard ‘the living God’ speaking out of fire on the mountain as they did on that third day.

Now of course Moses had heard the I AM speaking out of fire on that very mountain (Exodus 3).  But this is different.  This is the unseen LORD.  This is the Most High God and it has taken 70 chapters of the bible – it has taken the mighty redemption of the Angel – to make this kind of encouter possible.

And just when you thought Exodus might finish in chapter 19, the people don’t actually go up the mountain at the trumpet blast (Ex 19:13).  Instead Moses goes up on their behalf (cf Deut 5:27; 18:15,16).

Everything will now be presented by intermediaries, shadows, types – such is the very essence of the old covenant introduced on Sinai.

The second half of Exodus is mainly Moses on the mountain, in the cloud, receiving the law and the tabernacle blueprint from the unseen LORD.

Attention turns to the future as the unseen LORD promises Moses that the Angel will continue to deliver them (Ex 23:20-23).  They can trust Him because the name of the unseen LORD is in Him (Ex 23:21).  It is the Angel who commands, leads and forgives the Israelites.

But perhaps Moses wasn’t listening in chapter 23 because in 33:12 he says:

“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.”

The Angel had brought them thus far.  Who would continue to lead them?

The unseen LORD replies:

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (33:14)

Who is this ‘Presence’?

The word ‘Presence’ is the word for face and it recalls a very memorable phrase from the previous chapter.

In Exodus 33:7-11 we hear about what used to happen.  We leave the mountain-top briefly to be told how Moses used to meet with the LORD down on ground level.  At that time he’d go to the tent of meeting and speak with the LORD “face to face as a man speaks with his friend.”

That was the ‘face to face’ LORD at ground level.  But when Moses is on the mountain, the unseen LORD reassures Moses that the Face (Presence) would continue to go with them.  Moses considers this to be absolutely essential – if the Presence doesn’t go with them he’d rather just perish in the wilderness (33:15).  Give me Jesus or give me death!

Having been encouraged greatly, Moses is now bold enough to ask something with echoes of Philip’s request in John 14.  Now he wants to see the glory of the unseen LORD (v18)!

The LORD’s reply is very telling: He would pass in front of Moses, He would proclaim His name, but, 33:20,

“you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Again in v22 He emphasizes

my face must not be seen.”

Now Moses is not an idiot.  He’s just recounted the incident in the tent of meeting (33:7-11) for a reason.  He’s deliberately distinguishing the ground-level appearing LORD with the mountain-top unseen LORD.  But he distinguishes them so as to intimately relate them.

Because as soon as Moses hears the name of the Unseen LORD (Ex 34:5-7) he exclaims:

“If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us.” (Ex 34:9)

When he hears the name of the Most High God he asks Him to send the Lord in their midst.  The name of the LORD is in the Angel who is in their midst (Ex 23:21).  So when Moses hears this gospel character he knows he’s experienced this very name in the Angel.

The seen LORD who has accompanied them is everything that the unseen LORD proclaims when He reveals His name.  And so Moses asks the Father to send the Son in their midst – the redeeming Lord-from-Lord.

Moses’ plea of 34:9 is granted and, at the end of Exodus, the Glory / Presence / LORD fills the tabernacle and directs all their travels (40:34-38).

pillar cloud tabernacle

We see throughout the Old Testament that the Presence of the LORD did indeed remain with the people.

Numbers 9:15-23 is one example out of many showing the seen LORD going in the midst of His people.  Number 14 says that even the surrounding nations knew that the Face-to-Face / Eye-to-Eye LORD travelled with the Israelites and fought for them (Num14:13f).

When Solomon finally builds a Temple for the Name of the LORD, the LORD fills it in exactly the same way as He filled the tabernacle in Exodus 40.  This LORD appears to Solomon in 1 Kings 9 and to Isaiah in chapter 6.

If we were in any doubt as to who this Divine Person is, the Apostle John settles all dispute: “Isaiah said this [referring to Isaiah 6] because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about Him.” (John 12:41)

In the fulness of time this LORD – this Angel of the covenant, this sought after and desired Redeemer – would come in a definitive judgement and salvation (Mal 3:1ff).

Jesus has always been the saving, ground-level, appearing LORD, mediating perfectly the saving plan and character of His Father.

Jude was speaking absolutely plainly and straightforwardly – Jesus is the LORD who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt.  In other words He is the God of the Old Testament.  Exodus is a wonderful demonstration of this foundational truth.

We’ll look at chapter 1 tomorrow…

All Exodus posts here

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