PRESENCE IN ABSENCE

If you’ve ever felt as though God is not active in your life, the book of Exodus is for you. If you’ve ever felt abandoned by God, the book of Exodus is for you. If you’ve ever wondered where God is in your life, what happened to the miracles, why he seems so distant or unconcerned, the book of Exodus is for you.

What’s the book of Exodus about? The easy answer is that it’s about the exodus, and this is true. The exodus is referred to in scripture more than any other event because it sets the paradigm of God’s saving work for his people. But the exodus is over by chapter 15 of a 40 chapter book, which begs the question: What’s the book of Exodus about?

 

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GOD’S PRESENCE

I contend that the book of Exodus is about the move from God’s apparent absence to his tangible presence. At the beginning of the book, the people are in slavery, wondering if their God cares. By the end of the book, God is in a tent in the center of the camp.

In the first two chapters of the book, God is conspicuously absent. In 1:8 we are told that a new king has come to the Egyptian throne who has no regard for Joseph and what he did for the nation (recorded in Genesis 41) and, in turn, for the Hebrews living in the land. 1:11-14 tells us the Hebrews are put under slavery and harsh oppression, ruthlessly forced into slave labor. By 1:15. the situation has gotten to the point wherePharaoh is ordering the death of Hebrew children! We get a hint that God at least knows what’s going on when we’re told in 1:20 that he was kind to the midwives who didn’t cooperate with Pharaoh in the killing of babies, but the Hebrews are still left to wonder how they got into the situation in the first place. And finally, in chapter 2, we’re told of a mom who has to place her child in a basket and send him down the river in order to save his life.

WHERE WAS GOD?

All of this would have the Israelites wondering:

  • Where was God when we were becoming slaves?
  • Has God abandoned his covenant with Abraham?
  • Has God Forgotten it?
  • Is God too lazy to follow through?
  • Is God angry with us?

This is why 2:23-25 is so critical to the theme of the book: The Israelites groaned under the harsh yoke of their slavery and their cry for help went up to God. God heard their groaning, remembered his covenant with their ancestors, and took note, a very Hebrew way of saying God is about to take action.

GOD IS WITH HIS PEOPLE

By the end of the book of Exodus God is in a tent in the middle of his people. In fact, the bulk of chapters 25-40 concern the construction of the tabernacle, God’s tent. Exodus ends by telling us that the cloud representing his presence covered the tent and that his glory filled the tabernacle such that Moses was not even able to enter. There was a cloud by day with fire in it by night to tangibly represent for the people that their God was in their midst. So we see that the bookends of the narrative of the book of Exodus go from God’s apparent absence to his very tangible presence.

GODS LAW BRINGS UNITY

There are two parts of the book that we as Christians typically overlook that were of special concern to ancient Israel. This first is the giving of the law in chapters 20-24. The law was not a stodgy list of rules to keep. Rather, it was that which gave Israel identity as the people of God. It allowed them to have a strong sense of national pride and unity, similar to what the constitution is for the United States. While in slavery in Egypt, they were not a true nation. Yes, they were a clan of people with an ethnic identity, but they were not a self-governing political entity that could properly be called a nation. God promised Abraham that he would make him into a mighty nation. It is the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai as recorded in chapters 19-24 that serves as the official fulfillment of that promise.

BLUEPRINTS FOR THE TABERNACLE 

The second is the regulations for the construction of the tabernacle. Now that God lives in us via his Spirit, the tabernacle is no longer an issue. But for ancient Israel, the building of God’s house and the realization that he was going to be living in their midst was certainly a very big deal. This is why there is an almost annoying level of detail about the finest points of construction in these chapters. They were building God’s house, and this realization was a source of pride as well pressure to take the utmost care in construction. Their national identity was wrapped up in being the people of Yahweh and thus the construction of the tabernacle was a source of national pride.

GOD IS PRESENT IN HIS ABSENCE

So the next time you open the book of Exodus, think about where the story is at in terms of the broad theme of the book. It’s about the exodus event, yes, but a more thorough view reveals that the swath of the narrative is about moving from a seemingly absent God to a God who is living in the midst of his people. God is present in his absence. Though it seemed he did not care, he was, in fact, orchestrating events for the good of his people.

The same is true today: Even in those times where circumstances scream the absence of God, he is in fact present.

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Strength and Wealth

If you’ve been teaching the Bible, reading the Bible or just curious about the Bible you know the inevitable question:  What’s God’s deal with money?

First some context: In some ancient Near Eastern languages the words for ‘strength’ and ‘wealth’ are interchangeable. In Deuteronomy 6:5, the so-called shema, Moses tells the Israelites to love the Lord their God with all their hearts and with all their souls and with all their strength. The problem with this verse is that it literally says to love God with ‘all your exceedingly.’ Obviously, ‘all your exceedingly’ doesn’t make sense and so translators had to figure out how to put that into sensible English.

Not a New Problem

The funny thing is that ancient translators experienced the same problem. The translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament made before the time of Christ, used the words power or might. This is where we get the translation ‘all your strength.’ The targums, Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, use the word mammon. This is the very word Jesus uses when he says, “You cannot serve both God and mammon,” i.e., money.

Beyond Money and Guilt
The point is that in Deuteronomy we are being told to love God with everything we’ve got, including our money. It’s not about tithing. It’s about loving God with all you’ve got, not just the first ten percent. It’s also not a guilt trip. Moses wasn’t some greasy con-man who just wanted people’s money. Moses was telling us that God wants us to love him with every financial decision we make: paying rent, eating out, buying groceries, investing in your 401(k)… everything. God’s desire is that we revel in his blessing while eagerly desiring to pay that blessing forward.

November 30, 2015

Genealogy: So What?

 

Could a genealogy of guys who lived really long lives be useful for showing us how to walk with God? Let’s take a look and see what we find. Right off the bat we’re given an account of Adam’s line:

The List Begins

When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathers a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died. (Genesis 5:3-8)


And Goes On…

I’ll stop before your eyes glaze over, but suffice it to say that it goes on like this. Did you notice the formula? So and so lived a certain number of years, had children, and died. In fact, you probably start skimming over genealogies as we usually do when we recognize a pattern. We also have a tendency to get sidetracked by the ridiculously long lifespans, but that’s not really the point of the passage. No, I think what we are supposed to notice is that every entry ends the same: “and he died.”

Wait! Here’s Something Different

Genesis 5 says Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, had a son, named him Jared, lived another 830 years for a total of 895, and then he died. Jared lived 162 years, had a son, named him Enoch, lived another 800 years for a total of 962 years, and then he died. Enoch lived sixty-five years, had a son, named him Methuselah, lived another 300 years for a total of 365 years, and then “he was not, for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24)

The break in the pattern means that we should pay attention. Something’s different with Enoch. Verse 24 tells us that unlike the others in the genealogy Enoch walked with God. A quick scan of the next verses shows that Enoch was unique; all the other men on the list died. In the entire list of generations, one person managed to escape death, and we’re told he walked with God.

A Man Who Knew Who He Was and Where He Came From

For Enoch, walking with God was simply doing what was commanded. That’s why Jesus says, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15) Jesus echoed this concept of walking with God when he spoke to his disciples shortly before his death in John 15, saying “Abide in me and I in you.” (Verse 4)

It’s as much about being with Jesus as it is active obedience. This is sometimes hard for us to grasp. It’s not about perfection; it’s about knowing the one who created us. And it’s what separated Enoch from the rest of his genealogy.

Cain & Lamech: Two Murders, One Appeal

 

You’re probably familiar with Cain’s story, Lamech maybe not as much. These two men from the Old Testament both demonstrate an approach to confront and deal with our sin, though the outcomes are very different. Cain, though an unlikely example, offers an excellent paradigm for what it looks like to have an ongoing relationship with God.

Unexpected Grace

Cain is remembered for committing the first murder when he killed his brother in a jealous rage. Genesis 4:10 records that God confronts Cain with his sin and tells him that he’s banished from God’s presence, destined to live as a fugitive and wanderer on the earth. Cain cries out to God for mercy, which may seem like an incredibly cheeky thing to do, for someone with blood on his hands, but Cain clearly knew enough about God’s character to appeal for mercy.

Even in his righteous judgment, the Lord responds to Cain’s plea with a gesture of grace. He places a mark of protection on him and says, “If anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” (Genesis 4:15) Note that Cain is still banished, but because he called on the Lord, even in his punishment God demonstrates mercy.

A Dangerous Assumption

Later in Genesis, we read about Lamech, who commits the second murder. Like Cain, Lamech speaks about his guilt, but instead of crying out to Yahweh, he assumes the same mercy extended to Cain will be extended to him. But there is no indication in the text that his words are sanctioned by God, and thus I don’t think God is bound by Lamech’s insistence that God avenge him.

We are given these parallel stories to show us something about the Lord’s character and how he invites us to deal with our sin. Lamech takes matters into his own hands and declares that anyone who touches him will be in big trouble. When Cain is confronted with his sin, he calls out to God and is met with grace. This theme is echoed at the end of the chapter, “At that time, people began to call on the name of Yahweh.” (Genesis 4:26)

We don’t have to wait until we get to the New Testament to see a God who meets us with grace and mercy.

“Hey! Remember Me?”

 

Our world is a busy place, and a noisy one too. We have stuffed life so full of competing priorities that it’s easy to let our relationship with God slip into second, third, or seventh place. The Bible has a remedy for this: remembering.

Forgetting Means Trouble

The idea of remembering what the Lord has done runs all throughout scripture. Even in a casual read of Deuteronomy you’ll continually see, “Hey, remember what the Lord has done” and it continues all the way to the end of scripture. When you read Revelation, you see God giving letters to the different churches and to the Church of Ephesus and he says, “Hey, you’re doing great, but I’ve got this problem. You’ve slipped away from your first love.” The remedy God gives for this loss is to remember, “Remember the heights from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).

Recognize the Author and Tell the Stories

The point is that we need to be continually in the habit of remembering, and enumerating, or bringing to mind and replaying the different things that God has done in our lives. And it doesn’t have to be just our lives. There is power in hearing the stories of what God has done in the lives of others.

Even recalling the daily things like the flowers in your garden or the smell of fresh cut grass, things that remind you of God’s goodness, can be powerful. The little things that God puts in our lives—remember them and remember what God has done. Remember what God has done for others and what he has done throughout history. This is how we guard our hearts from gradually slipping away from our first love.

Does All Mean All?

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We have to be honest and say that there are portions of scripture that most of us just completely ignore, and most of those just happen to be in the Old Testament. You know the passages I’m talking about: those long lists of laws, or endless lines of begets.

Many of us have been taught that the Bible is our handbook, so as we read we’re looking for application or instruction on how we should live our lives. When we come across something like Exodus 21-23 where it talks about a bull goring someone else’s bull, or what to do with the fat from our festival offering, we say, “Hey this doesn’t apply to me,” and skip over it.

Stop Dismissing the Old Testament

The thing is, there’s an interesting line that Paul said to Timothy. Maybe you’ve heard it before. Paul said that “all scripture is useful.” (2 Timothy 3:16) I’ve often wrestled with that verse. If all Scripture is useful then why do you have genealogies or legal sections? How are we supposed to view those sections as useful?

First, we should know how God views those long sections of Old Testament law. He calls them good. In Romans 7:12, we read, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” We’ve got to get away from this idea that the Old Testament law was this bad thing, or some bad experiment that God tried, but New Testament stuff is where it’s at. The Old Testament law is good.

All Part of One Divine Whole 

Next, we’ll be more likely to view a passage as useful if we realize that the law is unified. In an effort to figure out which parts of the Old Testament law they should keep and which parts they should ignore, some people have broken up the Old Testament law into civil laws, ceremonial laws, and ethical laws.

Civil laws would be things like how to govern the nation. Well, that doesn’t apply to us. Ceremonial laws would be things like we find in Leviticus; how you do sacrifices, and stuff like that. That doesn’t apply to us. But the moral stuff, things like don’t commit adultery, well that applies at any time and at any place.

I’ve got to be honest. That kind of makes sense, but the problem is the Bible never talks about the law that way. It never breaks up the law into those divisions. It always speaks of the law as a unified whole.

Missing Part of God’s Heart

All Scripture is useful, because it’s all about God. Part of what the law is designed to do is reveal God. This is why it troubles me as an Old Testament Professor that so many people ignore the Old Testament law. God is revealing himself. He’s revealing his character and that’s super important. If we’re going to go around saying that it’s important to know God, but we ignore these huge sections of scripture that actually reveal his heart and his concerns and his character to us, I think it’s to our own detriment.

Now about those genealogies. We’ll discuss those another day.