Thursday, January 31. Exodus 8 – 10

By now, the Lord said to Pharaoh, “I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.”

So why didn’t he?

Just kill all the Egyptians and get Israel out of there.

But God doesn’t hate the Egyptians. He just loved Israel more.

And besides, God has a purpose with all these plagues. The purposes have been expressed as the story has unfolded.

First, through His mighty power worked in the plagues, He wants Israel to know that He is, indeed, the Lord. It is their God, the God of the Hebrews, who is truly God and He is the one who is bringing them out of Egypt. He does not want to be mistaken for some Egyptian or other god (6:7). Second, he wants the Egyptians to know that He, the God of the Hebrews and not some Egyptian God, is bringing Israel out. He can manipulate the weather, nature, natural resources and catastrophe (7:5). Third, he wants the people of power, namely, the magicians, to acknowledge that the God of the Hebrews is greater than they are (8:19). Fourth, He wants them all to know that He is unique. There is no one on the earth, and no god in anyone’s pantheon, equal to Him (9:14). Fifth, He wants Pharaoh to know that his very being (Pharaoh’s) is not a happenstance of nature, but rather a deliberate “raising up” on the part of the Lord. In chapter twelve He will say that He wants all the gods of Egypt to be felled (judged) in the sight of their worshipers. There is only one God. He is the god of the Hebrews, and they and only they are His people.

In the end, God is not whoever you think He is, or whoever or whatever you want Him to be. God is who He is, and He does not change. Our task is to know Him as He is and yield to His will.

Wednesday, January 30. Exodus 5 – 7

I remember as a boy visiting the fishing villages near our home on the weekend. Fishermen would fish all night and the next morning return home with their catch. Fish would be sorted. The good ones would be kept for food or sold for profit. The bad ones were not returned to the sea, but tossed on the shore. The smell was horrible – and ever-present.

By turning the Nile into blood, the fish died. The water itself stank. The Nile, considered a god in Egypt, was made detestable and useless to the Egyptians.

Did the Nile really turn into literal blood?

Why would a Bible believer consider anything else?

The text says “blood,” and I am willing to accept that, but there are some difficulties. First, Exodus 7:21 says the “water” smelled so bad that people could not drink it. If it were “blood,” it wouldn’t be water, and if it were blood, no one would think of drinking it. But second, though every bit of water drawn from the Nile also turned into blood, if you dug around the Nile, the sandy soil would filter the water so that it would be usable (note that wells didn’t seem to be affected). If it were blood, no amount of filtering would make it “water.”

As far as Moses, Israel and the Egyptians were concerned, it looked like blood and smelled just as bad. No one was going to argue the point. Nor was anyone going to argue that the Lord, God of Israel had inflicted a huge blow on Egypt. But then again, such trickery was not beyond the Egyptian magicians. As we shall see, the Lord is toying with them. He has a point to make, and He will take his time doing it.

In our own lives, sometimes God afflicts us to give us time: time to think, consider, evaluate, change, submit. When trials are “dark on every hand,” it’s important to draw closer to God, not further away.

Tuesday, January 29. Exodus 2 – 4

There are two stories in Exodus chapter four that grab our attention.

The first is the one folks usually teach. God called Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt. Moses, however, has lost his confidence. Forty years earlier, in the prime of his life, he could slay dragons. There was nothing he couldn’t do – so he thought. Believing that surely, if he killed an Egyptian, all Israel would make him their leader and follow him to the promised land, he committed murder.

No one followed.

Now, at age eighty, Moses is so insecure he has to ask permission from his father-in-law to leave town. When God calls, Moses offers a multitude of excuses. God listens patiently, then says “do what I tell you!”

Moses learned, as Jonah would centuries later, that when God bids you do a thing, it is easier to do it than to refuse.

Not a bad lesson for our own time.

The second story gets nearly no play in Bible class. Moses had not circumcised his boys, and for that failure, God determined to kill him.

However you feel about circumcision, it was a divinely appointed mark to identify God’s people, required at a specific time for all the male descendants of Abraham. Moses had lived so long among the pagans that not even the most basic mark of his family was upon them.

Why would God kill Moses for this?

Because when God requires something, God is serious about the requirement. It really doesn’t matter how humans feel about it; their feelings do not negate the requirements of God. neither does their understanding – or lack of it.

I think the point of both stories is the same: When God bids us to do something, obedience is not optional, an important point at the beginning of the Exodus story.

Monday, January 28. Genesis 48 – Exodus 1

When Genesis ends, God seems to be everywhere. The story of Joseph, son of Jacob, is the longest personal narrative in Genesis and closes out the last thirteen chapters of the book. When Joseph was kidnaped and sold as a slave, the Bible says the Lord was with Joseph and caused him to prosper. When Joseph was falsely accused and imprisoned, the “Lord was with Him and showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” God caused Joseph to be released from prison and elevated him to second in command over all Egypt. God is there at every turn, and through all the hardships, Joseph honored God with an exemplary life.

When Exodus begins, however, God seems nowhere to be found. Four hundred years pass between Genesis and Exodus, and at the beginning of Exodus, all of God’s people are enslaved. You can only imagine how the Israelites felt: God had let them down. While they had once been “the head and not the tail,” they are now at the bottom.

But the story of Exodus affirms that God has not disappeared, nor has He ceased watching over His people. In what will be the greatest story in the Old Testament, He delivers His people from Egyptian bondage so that they can worship Him.

In the Hebrew Old Testament, Exodus is called “Names” from the first line of the book: “These are the names.” Exodus 19:1 mentions “going out” (or “exiting”) of Egypt, and when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, this became the new name of the book. The book can be divided into the following parts:
I) God delivers the descendants of Jacob (known as the “Israelites” because Jacob’s other name was “Israel”). Exodus 1:1 – 13:16.
II) Israel journeys under the protection of God to Sinai. Exodus 13:17 – 19:2
III) God tells Israel what he expects of them – both in how they live and how they approach him in worship. Exodus 19:3 – 34:28
IV) Israel’s obedience to God illustrated in their building a place for worship. Exodus 34:29 – 40:38.

Sometimes, our lives look and feel like God is nowhere to be found. But He is there, planning our deliverance and bringing it to pass. That was surely the way it must have seemed for Jesus. Perhaps that’s why his death is called, in the New Testament, an “Exodus” (or “departure” in Luke 9:31). And yet, God was there for Him, just as he is for us. Between now and our own exodus, God calls us to a lifestyle that honors Him in obedience, and worships him in praise.

Sunday, January 27. Genesis 45 – 48

Consider Joseph’s welfare plan for Egypt. Pharaoh would take twenty percent of all the harvest in all of Egypt for the seven years of abundance. However, even at that rate, it would only equal 140 percent of one year’s crop after seven years of saving. In order to have enough to get through seven years of severe famine (see 41:57,57; 43:1; 47:4, 13, 20), the crops would have to be abundant indeed – nearly five times the normal harvest, a prospect that is unlikely (though it was huge – 41:49).

And so, when the seven years of plenty were over, rather than distribute the stored rations freely, Joseph charged for the food (even for the Egyptians). There is never a free lunch. Modern people ought to remember that. When a people are not producing themselves, they become slaves. Without crops, the Egyptians ran out of money, mortgaged their cattle, and ultimately, exchanged all their assets for food. Verse twenty-one of chapter forty-seven says Joseph “reduced the people to servitude.” There is a textual problem here. Some manuscripts have “he moved the people to the cities,” but “reduced to servitude” makes better sense.

It also makes a point of the chapter stand out.

Here was a Hebrew who, though making all Egypt servants of Pharaoh, also made all Egypt his servants. Notice also that while the Egyptians lost their wealth and land, the Hebrews acquired land and became prosperous. As Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before them, God made them to prosper, even in a foreign land.

God never loses sight of His people, and they always, in time, are made the top and not the bottom (Deuteronomy 28:13).

Saturday, January 26. Genesis 41 – 44

Notice the Egyptian coloring of the dream story. Cows come up out of the Nile. That is where cattle often resort to escape heat and flies. Notice also that Joseph shaves. Hebrews would let their beards grow, but Egyptians shaved them.

What I have wondered is: how did Joseph know that he would be able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream?

On the one hand, he had interpreted dreams before, but only once (to the butler and baker). Then again, perhaps he felt that, after over two years in prison, he had nothing to lose.

But I really think that Joseph believed God always had him in mind. When he interpreted the dreams of the butler and baker, he believed God had given him the answers, and he lived his life as one who believed God was directing him.

His example is an important one. To confidently believe God has your back, even when things are going wrong, and to move forward as best you can, taking advantage of every opportunity and making the most of every circumstance – even when the circumstances are poor. This is faith, and one of the reasons we have such examples in the Bible.

Friday, January 25. Genesis 38 – 40

The story of Judah and Tamar in chapter thirty-eight is filled with practices and customs that will be unfamiliar to most readers.
There is the matter of the “levirate marriage” (Deuteronmy 25:5ff), which is when a brother dies leaving no heir. The idea is that the surviving brother will take the widow and have children with her. Her children are counted as the children of her dead husband and his heirs.

If you think that explanation is confusing, just try living with it.

Evidently no one liked it, judged from the stories about it in the Old Testament (though it does seem to work later for Boaz and Ruth).

Who will be Judah’s heir?

Legitimately, the inheritance of the firstborn belongs to Er and his descendants, and Tamar has every right to expect that will happen. But considering both of the sons he has given her to have died, she seems to be regarded as a piece of bad luck by Judah and he refuses to give her to his remaining son. It is a horrid statement about Judah’s ethics, but the statement doesn’t end there. He doesn’t mind having sex with a prostitute, but of his daughter-in-law has sex, she will be burned.

We are not told what Er’s sin was, but it was bad enough for God to kill him. Onan’s sin is much easier to understand. He didn’t mind having sex with Tamar, but he surely wasn’t going to produce children by her – the only legitimate reason for him to be intimate with her. (English Bibles sometimes obscure the fact that Onan had sex with her repeatedly. It was not a one time affair.) To see how God feels about using others purely for sexual pleasure, note that God killed Onan too.

Why do we have this story?

It informs us why Judah’s firstborn heirs are the children of Tamar, which will become important later regarding genealogy. But it also provides us with insight to the sinfulness of Jacob’s family. It will make the story of Joseph that much brighter.

Thursday, January 24. Genesis 35 – 37

Jacob’s struggles are not over.

I notice a real contrast between chapter thirty-four and chapter thirty-five. God’s name is not mentioned at all on the former. He is mentioned throughout the latter.

Jacob had made a vow to God to return to Bethel and build an altar to the Lord. He’d made it nearly thirty years before. He’s returned to Canaan, but not to the place of the vow: Bethel. He built a ranch in Succoth. He has lived in Shechem. And trouble has dogged his every step.

Why?

I think part of it is that he has not yet returned to Bethel. He promised to return there and worship the Lord, dedicating himself to God. Perhaps his reluctance is that he knows if he fulfills his vow, his life will take on an uncertainty he’s uncomfortable with, require more than he wants to give.

Notice that when God finally gives him a push in chapter thirty-five (and says “Go to Bethel”), Jacob and his family has to get rid of all their foreign gods. They’ve not exactly been faithful to the Lord.

When we commit to be God’s people, we must life in a way that demonstrates our trust in Him, not in ourselves or anything else earthly. Commitment requires fulfillment. Commitment requires action. When we commit, and live as if we have not, we cannot expect God to bless us. Live will continue to be a struggle.

Wednesday, January 23. Genesis 32 – 34.

Centuries later the prophet Hosea will write of Jacob: “In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God.” Isaac’s youngest son has been fighting all his life.

Some of it Has been his own fault. Behavior is like that. You make bad choices and the consequences follow you seemingly forever. Every day is a struggle.

When he left home, Jacob made a vow at Bethel: if God would watch over him and bless him so that he returned safely to his father’s house, he would devote himself to God.

Twenty years have passed. Jacob struggled with his wives. He struggled with Laban. He must have wondered often whether God was with him. And yet, Jacob increased. God’s blessing often comes ever so slowly. I think one of the reasons is that God cannot give us everything we want when we want it out of fairness to others. Perhaps another reason is that if He responded as we wished, we would be overwhelmed.

One step remains: returning home. In Jacob’s mind, Esau is an obstacle, but his brother’s hatred has subsided (or so it seems) and he welcomes Jacob with warm embrace. Why then does Jacob seem to lie to Esau? Why doesn’t he accompany his brother and join forces with him?

Why indeed?

Remember, God has not promised to bless Esau and Jacob together. Jacob is the child of promise. He is not allowed to share it with Esau, nor can Esau share in it. As God’s people, we’d do well to remember Jacob and Esau’s meeting. When God’s people assimilate with those who are not, the result cannot be the people of God. We can embrace those who are not God’s people, but there must always been an aloofness between us lest our distinctiveness as holy people be destroyed.

Tuesday, January 22. Genesis 29 – 31

I feel for Jacob. He is caught in the middle between two competing women who are using him solely (so it seems) to get them pregnant. Leah feels unloved and she is hoping to cultivate love in Jacob by bearing him children. Rachel feels her position as the loved wife is threatened because she can’t give Jacob as many children as Leah.

The Mandrake plants were supposed to induce fertility, that’s why Rachel makes the deal for them. But they do her no good. Leah sells them to her for a night with Jacob. She gets pregnant. Jacob returns to Rachel who has benefitted from the Mandrakes and remains barren. God never intended sex or children be used this way. You cannot exactly be proud of these two women.

Jacob himself resorts to folk magic to get the monochrome flocks to produce a less desirable, but more profitable, sort for himself. But it’s not the magic that works. It is God (39:9-12).

Jacob is doing the best he knows how with a culture that opposes him at every turn. I doubt Israel, reading this story for the first time, would take pride in these goings on. But with them they are reminded that as God’s people deal with hostile cultures sometimes in unacceptable ways, God Himself is working for the benefit of His people. Jacob left home with his cloak and staff. He will, with the help of God and despite all the trickery of Laban, return home a wealthy man.