Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

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Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, January 20. Exodus 8-10

At first, it seemed like a contrivance, just an excuse to do something.  “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword” (Exodus 5:3).  God really wanted Israel to escape, so He (and they) made this trumped up reason to leave Egypt.

But it was not a contrivance.  In fact, it was God’s reason from the beginning (remember 4:21-23).  It is the repeated reason for Israel to leave Egypt.  They cannot worship God in that land.

Why not?  Isn’t God everywhere?  Where people are allowed the freedom to assemble, can they not worship the Lord?

Actually, often the answer is “no.”

First, God wanted them to worship Him in a special place.  Second, he wanted them to worship Him as free people, not as slaves.  How sovereign could the Lord be if His own people were enslaved by worshipers of another god?

But perhaps just as important, Israel could not live as the holy people God expected them to be surrounded by the paganism that was Egypt.  As the Exodus story unfolds, you will notice the continual influence of a pagan culture on the people of God.

As the plagues unfold, God is convincing the Egyptians it is in their best interest to allow Israel to leave.  But God is also convincing Israel that Egypt isn’t an attractive place to live at all.  Who would want to live in the land where the water smelled of blood and where frogs (and their carcasses) were everywhere you moved?

We assemble for worship as a community, but worship is also a daily thing, where God is honored by our plans and lives.  When we forget that, or are drawn away from it by the allure and comfort that is our culture, God is not worshiped and he calls us to “come out from among them and be separate” (Isaiah 52:11), just as he called Israel.


Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, January 19. Exodus 5-7

“Lord?  What’s going on?”

That’s the essence of Moses’ words in the last two verses of Exodus 5.

Moses tells us that the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites with “forced labor,” that they made their lives “bitter” and worked then “ruthlessly.”  Israel “groaned” in their slavery – but they remained in slavery.  God “heard their cry,” “saw their misery” and was “concerned” about them.  He chose and sent Moses to deliver them and Moses did everything God said.

But the slavery continued.

In fact, it got worse.  Israel had been forced to make bricks.  It’s one thing to make bricks from the raw materials supplied.  It’s quite another to have to gather your own raw materials and still make the same amount of bricks.

Israel, instead of rallying around Moses their leader, turned on him, and Moses had to wonder what God was up to.

As people of God, we live with the promises of the Lord, promises of his protection, indwelling and reward.  But equally as people of God, we also live with disappointment when God fails to rescue or bless us as and when we believe his promises warrant.

God, however, has His own agenda and it is rarely so small that it focuses only on one person or even a small group of people.  God is working out his cosmic plan for the lives of humanity.  Much must come toether at just the right time for God’s goals to be met.  It should be enough to simply be a part of His plan.

But it rarely is.

Moses is discouraged and puzzled, but he isn’t quitting.  Imagine what would have happened if he had?


Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, January 18. Exodus 2-4

We do not know how long Jacob’s descendants received preferential treatment in Egypt.  It would seem from Joseph’s dying words that he already knew things were not going well, would get worse, and that his relatives would not be able, on their own to escape the trouble that was surely on the horizon.  He had said: “I am about to die.  But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Things did get worse, resulting in the extermination of Hebrew boy babies.

Moses’ mother was determined, however, to save her child and, as the saying goes, ‘have her cake and eat it too.’

As Exodus 2 begins, it would seem simply a coincidence that Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, but as you read, it just seems likely that Jochebed (Moses’ mother) took an incredible risk and laid an elaborate plan.  She may have known Pharaoh’s daughter, what kind of person she was.  She placed Moses at just the right place at just the right time, with Moses’ sister Miriam not only to watch and make sure nothing bad happened, but also to volunteer to get a nurse for a crying hungry baby.

With the plan set in motion, everything fell into place.  Jochebed was able to save her son, raise him as her own, teach him of his heritage, and guarantee his future as few parents are able.  Parents who put this kind of forethought into caring for their children will not be surprised at their success.


Reading Through the Bible, Genesis 49 – Exodus 1. Monday, January 17

Genealogies allow an historical writer to cover a large amount of territory, continuing the story, making a few quick but important points along the way as the author moves to the next main subject.

Jacob’s blessing of his sons amounts to a genealogy of sorts, dealing with the past and future of Jacob’s sons and their descendants.

Why wasn’t Reuben, Jacob’s eldest child, the son of promise – the one with the most inheritance?  Jacob’s blessing explains that it was the behavior of the first three boys that cost them their place of prominence.  As Jacob moves from son to son, he shows that he knows his boys well: their strengths and weaknesses.  He has an idea of what will become of each of them.

The wise parent will get to know his children and rather than try to fit them into a specific mold (eg.  “I want my child to be what I couldn’t be but always wanted to be), will guide the child in testing different roads to get an idea of the best way for the child to go.  Then, with a good understanding of the personality and capabilities of the child, mom and dad encourage the child to go down the road he (or she) will be good at.  It does no good to force an outdoorsman to be a bookworm, nor a bookworm to be a sports nut, nor someone with mechanical aptitude to be a philosopher.  Spend time with your children, learn who they are, help to mold them according to their abilities.  You will not be surprised at their successes or failures, and you will be there for them during both.  They will never forget this blessing you’ve given them.


Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, January 16. Genesis 46-48

I suppose when (if) I get to be 130 years old I too will think more about death.  Perhaps a lot more.  After all, at 130, it can’t be far away.  Death has been on Jacob’s mind for a while.  He mentioned it when Joseph went missing, and again when the boys returned from Egypt.  The boys mention it to Joseph when they go back for the second trip and when Jacob gets the news Joseph is alive, he says: “I will go and see him before I die.”   Likely, at this point, Jacob has only recently buried his father, Isaac.

In Genesis 15, God had revealed that Abraham’s ancestors would become slaves in a country not their own.  In Genesis 46, God reveals the country is to be Egypt.  Jacob has experienced four visions of God.  The first was at Bethel, just after he left home.  The second was while he was with Laban in Haran.  The third was at the Jabbok where he and the Lord wrestled and the fourth was back at Bethel.  On each occasion, God assured him of His protection and blessing.  Now, at Beersheba, God tells Jacob He will travel with him as he goes to Egypt.  The genealogy presented is there to assure us that everyone went.  No one was left behind.

As children of God, we all live our lives in view of approaching death.  Such a perspective helps to guide us and hem us in with holy boundaries.  Peter reminds us of this when he writes of the end: “Since everything will be destroyed . . . what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God . . .”  After all, we have the promise (and warning) of God’s company.  He is always with us.


Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, January 15. Genesis 43-45

Are you a procrastinator?

Someone who is always putting off ‘till tomorrow what you could just as easily do today? You know as well as I do, the day always comes when you have to do the chore and if you’re like me, you kick yourself for not doing it sooner.

Procrastination comes to mind in Genesis 43.  So does the feeling Jacob is a whiner. His boys return from Egypt with food and tell their father that to get more food, Benjamin will have to return with them to Egypt.  Jacob refuses, basically saying I’d rather all of you and your families die of starvation than I take the chance of being bereaved with the loss of Benjamin.

Such a decision cannot have endeared Jacob to his children.  You can see they’ve had enough of Jacob’s irrational behavior in Judah’s reply to his father.  “We’re not going back to Egypt without Benjamin” and “if you weren’t so stubborn we could have gone down there and back twice by now.”

Though Jacob is old, he isn’t too old.  He is well enough to finally make the trip to Egypt, and he will live seventeen more years after he arrives there.  The problem is fear.  Jacob really doesn’t trust God.  Where is the legacy of his grandfather in Jacob’s life?  Abraham, at the news of Lot’s capture by the five eastern kings, gathered his household army and went to war to rescue his nephew.  All Jacob can do is whine: “Everything is against me!”

There are three steps to conquering fear: trust God, face facts, and act decisively.  God doesn’t give his people a “spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).  The Christian life is not reckless, but it is “bold,” because we know God is watching out for us.  I find a bit of contrast here between Joseph and his confidence, and Jacob and his lack of confidence.  Joseph is younger of course, but Jacob has lived long enough to know better.


Reading Through the Bible, Friday, January 14. Genesis 40-42

How long was Joseph in prison?

We’re not sure.  Certainly more than two years (because two years pass between the story told in chapter 40 and the one related in chapter 41) and probably a good number more.  In fact, by the time he enters Pharaoh’s service at the age of thirty, Joseph has spent all of his adult life in slavery or prison.

Significantly however, we don’t see Joseph bemoaning his plight, nor ever giving up.  As I write this our nation is mired deeply in a recession with unemployment at an all-time high.  The news mentions every day those who disappear from the rolls of the unemployed – not because they found jobs, but because they have despaired of finding one and have given up.  I cannot say Joseph always had a cheerful face, but he took his situation and made the best of it.  Specifically, he used his time to become interested in the misfortunes of others.

I suppose Joseph could have had entirely too much heartache on his mind to notice the plight of others, but he didn’t.  He notices that the cup-bearer and baker look dejected and sad, and takes an interest in why.

Furthermore, Joseph, in all his troubles, maintains a relationship with God.  Notice that Joseph believes, and tells the servants, that the interpretation of dreams “belongs to God.”  Then, he sets out to listen to and interpret the dreams.  He believes, no matter what his circumstances, that God is with him and that God will empower him to help others.

In whatever situation we find ourselves, if we are God’s people, God constantly has his eye on us.  Whatever our situation, he expects us to take an interest in the problems of others, believe that He will empower us to help, and go about helping.

Our situation will not change immediately, but it will change, and always for the better.

It certainly did for Joseph.


Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, January 13. Genesis 37-39

Genesis 37 begins with “This is the account of Jacob,” but while what follows is certainly about Jacob’s family, the story is really about Joseph, Jacob and Rachel’s firstborn son.  Joseph’s story is the longest personal narrative in the book of Genesis and perhaps that is for two reasons:

First, Joseph is presented as an exemplary individual, a model for all who read the story.  Though Joseph has his faults, compared to the others in the Genesis story, particularly in this section, Joseph outshines them all.  His story will serve as an example to Israel of how God blesses the faithful through all the trials of life.

But second, by the time the book of Genesis was written, the only life Israel has known has been life in Egypt and in the wilderness.  Why are they headed to Canaan?  How did they end up in Egypt?  The story of Joseph will bring them up on the latter of these two questions.  Moses has been very succinct in his presentation of Israel’s ancient history.  Now, turning to more recent events, he will be much more detailed.

As the Joseph story opens, the young man (think mid-teens) is seen as a “dreamer” with delusions of grandeur: one day his father and brothers will bow down to him.  As if that isn’t enough, Joseph is somewhat of a tattle-tale and and Jacob evidently has a habit of letting Joseph “supervise” the family business (keep an eye on the other brothers).  It’s a horrible situation.   After all, the other boys are old enough, powerful enough, cunning enough, and cruel enough to exterminate a whole city (Shechem).  What might they do to kid-brother?

We find out.  They sell him into slavery and lie to their father, contriving a situation that will lead Jacob to think Joseph has been killed.  You have to wonder about Jacob’s boys.  And Israel knows these are their ancestors.  Change for the better will come, but not before the story gets much worse.


Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, January 12 — Genesis 34-36

The story of Dinah and the Shechemites is somewhat of an embarrassment – mainly because we don’t know who to despise more.  First, there is Dinah, who “went out to see” (or visit) the women of the land – women we know to be of such ill-repute that Abraham’s descendants would not choose their wives from them.  Then, there is Shechem, who engages in a sexual relationship (you cannot tell this is rape from the text) with Dinah.  There are Jacob’s boys who abuse the sign of their relationship with God (circumcision) as a means of exacting revenge, and the people of Shechem who see the same sign as a means of stealing the wealth of Jacob’s family.  Finally, there is Jacob who from beginning to end refuses to do anything.

Did I leave anybody out?

Oh yes . . . God!  But then again, He is unmentioned in the chapter.

When Jacob left home, he promised at Bethel if the Lord would watch over him, make him prosper, and return him to his father’s house, the Lord would be his God and he would give God a tenth of all his wealth.  Over the next quarter century, God did watch over him and made him richer than Jacob could have imagined.  But Jacob did not return to Bethel.  In fact, he had no intention of returning there for in chapter 33 he buys land from the sons of Hamor and settles there.  After this horrid event, God has to tell him: “Go to Bethel.”

Two things stand out in this story: First, how far Jacob and his family have wandered from God.  They act as if they are totally on their own, not giving the Lord and His desire for them a thought.  It leads to timidity on Jacob’s part, and murder on his sons’ part.  And perhaps, living in that land, associating with those people, has led to sexual immorality on Dinah’s part.  Her brothers insist Shechem “treated her as a prostitute,” one who has sex willingly with those she is not married to.

The second thing is subtle.  To have sex with someone not your wife is “a thing that should not be done.”  It did not matter that Shechem wanted to marry her.  He had no right to her until marriage.  The land of Canaan would tolerate a less strict sense of morality, and so will our own.  But such is not the way of God.


Reading Through the Bible, January 11 — Genesis 31-33

Israel’s great ancestor was Abraham, and the story of Israel’s ancestry is one of favoritism – specifically, God’s favoritism.  Abraham goes to war against five kings of the East, and defeats their massive army with his personal house guard.  He lies about Sarah to the King of the Philistines, but it is the King of the Philistines who must ask Abraham to pray for his healing.  Isaac lives in hostile territory, but his wealth increases inexplicably and beyond all bounds despite violent opposition.  Jacob becomes Laban’s slave for twenty years, being cheated every step of the way.  But still Jacob succeeds more than Laban.  In fact, Genesis 31 says that in spite of Laban’s seeming upper-hand, Jacob basically acquired all Laban’s property.  In a long speech at the end, Jacob tells us that the secret of his success is the favor of the Lord.  In every age, the people of God must learn this lesson: success is defined, and guaranteed, by God.

It was a lesson seemingly lost on Jacob’s wives.  Do you wonder why Rachel stole Laban’s “household gods”?  Household gods (particular idols) were a sign of  ownership.  The one who held the gods, held title to the family property.  What they did not understand was that ownership was not tied to an earthly title, but to a relationship with the Lord, who really (as is demonstrated in these stories) owns all things and distributes them as He pleases.

The gods of Laban became a source of distraction to Jacob’s family, and a hindrance to further success until at last, Jacob called on the family to purge themselves of them.  When we forget that God controls everything and is the source of everything, we begin to look for  worldly ways to success.  Those paths always only lead to failure.  God is the fountain from whom all blessings flow.  He guarantees success according to His definition – the only one that counts – to all who fix their allegiance solely on Him.  Failure becomes an impossibility, no matter what the odds.