Posts tagged Moses
It was bound to happen eventually. The Church was going to be persecuted. I mean, this was a group of people who followed Jesus, whom the religious leaders had killed. They could only have assumed that the same fate awaited them. However, it was a risk they were willing to take – not only for their own gain, but for the sake of spreading the word of Jesus throughout the world.
Stephen understood this reality. As he stood before the Sanhedrin, he knew that it was highly likely that he would either be killed or imprisoned for the rest of his life. In that moment, standing in front of some of the most well-respected and powerful men in the nation, Stephen took advantage of the situation.
The question was simple: “Are these charges true?” The charges, as written in Acts chapter 6, were that Stephen had spoken blasphemous things against God and against Moses. The question then, asked by the high priest, is simple. Fours words that required a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, Stephen uses the opportunity to give the religious leaders a lesson in Jesus.
Keep in mind, nothing that Stephen says to these guys is anything new. These are people who have been schooled in Jewish history. They know the Scriptures like the back of their hand. What Stephen does is to highlight some very specific and “extra-sacred” texts and then link them to Jesus. And not only does he link the patriarchs like Abraham and Moses to Jesus, but he links the treatment of the ancient prophets to the treatment of Jesus.
You get the sense that the final words of Stephen’s speech were spoken not before, but as they began to drag him out of town to stone him. After quoting the “Heaven is my throne” passage, Stephen’s tone quickly shifts from being a teacher of Jewish history to being an accuser of the religious leaders. It’s as if he is forced to “wrap it up” quickly and he really wants to get to the point, with his final words being both an indictment against the prior actions of the Sanhedrin in killing Jesus as well as somewhat of a prophetic word against what they were about to do:
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
And with that, Stephen was stoned to death. The religious leaders would go on to hunt down, imprison and kill as many followers of Jesus as they could. But even in their persecution, this young church made the most out of the situation. As they scattered to other lands, they took the message of Jesus with them. They took the healing power of Jesus with them. They expanded the reach of the Kingdom of God even as they were being hunted down at home. They didn’t give up. They didn’t cower. And they never lost sight of the opportunity that stood before them – a chance to forever change the world by introducing anyone and everyone to Jesus. May we never lose sight either.
Jesus’ words on divorce are pretty strong. Anyone who divorces for reasons other than sexual immorality and then marries another is guilty of adultery. While those may be strong words, they are clear. What is a little less clear, however, is the way God handled things back in the days of Moses.
Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:8 is interesting:
“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:8)
Obviously, God did not intend for people to divorce. However, it seems like he made an exception during the time of Moses. It seems like he basically “gave in”. Because the people’s “hearts were hard,” Moses allowed them to get a divorce. His only requirement was that men give their wives a certificate of divorce – officially releasing them from any spousal obligation.
It’s as if God just accepted the fact that these guys were going to divorce their wives. And, to some extent, I think he did. However, God is always looking to redeem us, as much as possible. In the case of a divorce, God recognized that there were two parties involved. There was the guy divorcing his wife and then there was the wife who, in that culture, would suffer greatly without a husband.
What Jesus seems to be indicating is that Moses’ divorce allowance was in response to the fact that these men were going to divorce their wives no matter what. The wives, however, could receive at least some consolation through receiving this certificate of divorce. In other words, God wanted to make the best of a bad situation.
But Jesus makes it clear – divorce is not God’s plan. You may be able to argue that there are some marriages where God wasn’t the one who brought these two people together and, therefore, the words of Jesus here do not apply. That may be true. However, I think the greater lesson here is that God doesn’t want us to take the easy way out – with any of our relationships, especially marriage. Marriage is at times hard. Sometimes, the grass may seem greener on the other side of the tracks. But God knows that our lives are fulfilled when we learn to grow through those difficult times and when we are committed to come together, rather than be torn apart.
God loves us and wants us to have happy, healthy, fulfilled relationships. Divorce shouldn’t be our go-to answer for marital problems. We should go to God and, simultaneously, put in the hard work that it takes to mend a broken relationship. In the end, we will all be better for it.
As I read today about the dedication of the temple, I was reminded of our reading 100 or so days ago, when Moses dedicated the tabernacle. In much the same way that Moses had done before him, Solomon stood before the people and prayed a prayer of dedication. Then, in much the same way as he had done before, God sent this immense fireball to consume the sacrifice. It was as if God was putting his stamp of approval on the temple – his signature on this massive undertaking. It served as a reminder, too, that the same God who brought the people out of Egypt and who had commissioned and blessed the tabernacle was now blessing this temple.
God’s fire from heaven was his initial, public response to the completion and dedication of the temple. But there is also a second, more private response God offers to Solomon. Away from all the festivities and crowds, God appears to Solomon at night and offers these words:
“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (2 Chronicles 7:12)
What an incredible assurance for a king who had worked his entire adult life to make sure that the temple was completed. Then came this:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
Now, verse 14 may be familiar to you if you’ve spent any time around church. It is an incredible promise not only for the ancient Israelites, but for us as well. However, I think it’s important to read the sentence (it is, after all, only one sentence divided into two verses) in its entirety. You see, verse 13, the first part of the sentence, says “When” (not if) God shuts the heavens or commands locusts or sends a plague. When God does those things, if the people respond appropriately, God will will hear them, forgive them and heal them.
There are a few things going on here. First, God fully expects that the Israelites are going to screw up. (As I’ve mentioned before, he actually prescribed, in advance, ways for them to make amends for their sins.) Second, he is sending Solomon a subtle reminder that there will be consequences for the sins of the Israelites in the form of droughts, locusts, plagues and the like. And third, he is reminding Solomon that even as he acts as judge over the people, he also acts as defense counsel. If the people – his people – will humble themselves, pray, seek and turn, then he will commute the sentence, pardon the offenders and restore them to relationship with himself.
Verse 14 is an incredible offer of grace that you and I still get to take part in. However, it’s important to remember the truth of verse 13 – that there are consequences for our actions and that God doesn’t simply look the other way. His grace is freely given, but must be received. And, in order to receive it and to receive the pardon that comes along with it, we have to be humble, pray, seek and turn to him.
It seems innocuous enough – that little Bible sitting in the hotel room drawer. “Placed by the Gideons,” is what the inscription reads. Most people assume that some sweet old guy named Gideon donated a bunch of money to buy Bibles and place them in hotel rooms. But if you happened to pick up one of those books and flip over to the book of Judges, chapter 6 and 7, you would quickly realize that the namesake of the free Bible people was actually the William Wallace of his day – the “Braveheart” of Israel.
Gideon, of course, like so many Biblical heroes, was somewhat of a reluctant leader at first. The story of his calling seems to echo the calling of Moses. He had an incredible encounter with God, and yet he still needed a little more convincing that what he was being told was the truth. For Moses, it was a matter of arguing with God about Moses’ qualifications for leadership. For Gideon, it was an argument about God’s qualifications, as well as his own:
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Joshua 6:13)
The thing that struck me as I read this passage was Gideon’s lack of first-hand experience with God. “Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about?” he asked. In other words, he had heard about the greatness and the power of God, but he hadn’t witnessed it. God, of course, reassures Gideon and even gives him two signs that what Gideon is hearing are truly the words of God. And, eventually, Gideon’s eyes are opened and he is terrified (because he had heard that no one could see the face of God and live.)
Armed with the kind of confidence that comes from hearing from and seeing the angel of the Lord, you would think that Gideon would be immediately ready to go and take the land of Midian. And yet, God would have to give Gideon another little nudge:
During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. (Judges 7:9-11)
You see, it should have been enough for God to say “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands.” But Gideon latched onto the next sentence: “If you are afraid to attack, go…and listen to what they are saying.” Gideon needed one more assurance from God and God gave it to him. Which begs the question: how much patience does God have regarding our obedience when he calls us to something.
I thin the short answer is that he has as much patience as he needs to have. I know that in my own life, there have been times when I have been a little slow to respond to God’s calling. Sometimes, I think he simply moved on from me and had someone else accomplish the task. Other times, I think he waited on me, ever so patiently, and continued to call me to be part of his plan. The one thing I’ve never felt, though, was that God was angry with me or punished me for seeking clarification from him (like Gideon did.)
Let’s face it, there are a lot of thoughts that run through our minds and maybe only a fraction of them are from God. For me, my constant prayer has to be, “God, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I just need you to make it clear.” Then, when I begin to feel God tugging at me to embark on some part of his plan, I pray a version of that prayer again. “God, if this is what you want, I’ll do it, but I need you to make it clear.” In praying that prayer, I’m also often encouraged by Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed that God would take another course of action. It is the same kind of prayer – one of submission and clarification of mission while also voicing human concerns. I don’t believe that those kinds of prayers fall on deaf ears. Gideon’s prayer was heard and answered affirmatively. Jesus’ prayer was heard and answered with an unfortunate, “no”. In both cases, God was definitely listening.
One generation. Only one generation kind of got it right – the one that lived at the end of Moses’ tenure and the beginning of Joshua’s. Remember, the previous generation was denied access to the promised land and forced to roam around in the wilderness until they all died off. And now we read that the children of the “one generation” went off and did exactly what Joshua (and Moses before him) said that they would do.
It only took one generation for the people to completely forget about God. You have to wonder how in the world we can be so self-destructive. Forget about the spiritual side of things for a moment. This was the God who had allowed them to absolutely route some of the largest cities around. This was the God that threw hail stones at their enemies. He was a good friend to have! And yet, within one generation, the people of Israel were looking elsewhere for their inspiration.
Inspiration, it seems, is what we’re all looking for and we’ve become convinced that we can only find it in something brand new. Shiny objects distract and attract us, drawing us away from the tried and true. Like a mosquito flying into a bright light, we are mesmerized by that which is unfamiliar. We are sucked in by the mystery and wonder of it all. Everything else seems boring.
And yet, what we fail so often to realize is that the ultimate mystery and the only truly mesmerizing force in the universe lies “back there” where we came from. Hopefully, as you read along with me, the Holy Spirit is opening up these Scriptures to you and reminding you of the vastness of God and his story. I mean, there’s so much in this book that we should never get bored. If I’m bored by the Bible, it’s because I am a boring reader, not because it’s a boring story.
The Israelites failed to understand that. They got what they wanted from God and moved on. I don’t want to do the same. For you and I, it is imperative that we keep the mystery in front of us, that we recognize the vastness of God and that we allow ourselves, everyday, to be inspired and utterly amazed by him.